mon 17/06/2024

Widmann, LPO, Jurowski, RFH | reviews, news & interviews

Widmann, LPO, Jurowski, RFH

Widmann, LPO, Jurowski, RFH

Futility and magic in Julian Anderson’s new work, and not enough joy from Ravel

Bakst's 1912 design for the Ballets Russes premiere of 'Daphnis et Chloe'

Through symphony, opera and orchestral fireworks, Julian Anderson’s music can usually be guaranteed to bring his audiences plenty of meaty listening. But the British composer’s golden aura faded somewhat during the London Philharmonic’s world premiere last night of In lieblicher Bläue, a quasi-concerto (“poem” is Anderson’s preferred term) for violin and orchestra.

Some of its troubles might lie in the composer's source of inspiration, a crazy-quilt German Romantic text, hovering between poetry and prose, written in the early part of Friedrich Hölderlin’s long mental decline.

The text has exerted a fatal musical fascination before: in 1958 Hans Werner Henze spun from its words the 50-minute Kammermusik for tenor, guitar and ensemble, a work that despite piquant instrumentation offers about as joyful an experience as scrambling over rolls of barbed wire. Anderson’s wordless response to Hölderlin’s “lovely blueness” is much easier on the ear – shorter too (21 minutes). Yet the effort to create a musical response to the poet’s torrent of nature imagery, Hellenic references and philosophical conundrums still seems to have sapped his usual energy and focus.

Writing the piece for yesterday’s soloist Carolin Widmann, a violinist with a flair for the contemporary, was a generally good move. Her fiercely focused tone, sometimes embraced and sometimes fought by the orchestra, remained one of the concert’s pleasures. But why did Anderson have to keep handing her uncharacteristic and fidgety gimmicks? First she played just beyond the platform door; then she played from the orchestra’s edge; at the end she played with her back half-turned, all with minimal effect on the quantity of sound produced. The height of futility was reached when Widmann abandoned her bow for a few bars and plied her strings with a pencil. Possibly a dog could have heard her. 

At the same time, Anderson the master of texture and gesture kept popping up as if everything was normal. The opening’s flecks and sputterings gradually building into something florid: that had genuine magic. Hölderlin’s bell imagery produced the goods; orchestral eruptions surged with volcanic force; while the enigmatic open-ended conclusion compellingly mirrored Hölderlin’s last line,“Life is death, and death a life”. Trouble was, bright patches weren’t enough to make a satisfactory, glued-together work, even when burnished with Widmann’s steel, Vladimir Jurowski’s care, and the London Philharmonic’s lustre. Anderson, I’m sure, will get back his form, so long as he doesn’t write a concerto for pencil and orchestra, or possibly read more Hölderlin.

Plenty of care and lustre also went into Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé in the second half, though the pleasure quotient still could have been improved. I pin most of the blame on Ravel, for this time we heard the complete ballet score, not the usual second suite, where all the best stretches reside. Ravel might have been a jeweller in sound, but there's some woffle in the ballet’s first part especially, and in concert form too much stopping and starting. Through it all the London Philharmonic Choir weaved in and out with their warm, sensuous vocalise; and guest principal flautist Juliette Bausor danced in the sun. I enjoyed, too, the vigour of the chap with the tambourine. Even so, this remained one of those rare LPO concerts where Vladimir Jurowski, usually as galvanising and forceful as Vlad the Impaler, didn’t quite, or couldn’t, impale.

Anderson, I’m sure, will get back his form, so long as he doesn’t write a concerto for pencil and orchestra, or possibly read more Hölderlin


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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