It was good to hear Julian Anderson’s Fantasias so soon after last year’s Semyon Bychkov-conducted National Youth Orchestra European debut of it (Birmingham) and then its London first (Proms) – and just a few evenings since the work deservedly won in the Orchestral section of the British Composer Awards.
Written in 2009 for The Cleveland Orchestra, Jonathan Nott (long overdue a return to London) conducted the world premiere. I don’t recall the NYO’s brass section standing for the opening movement, but the LPO’s did, something of an initial distraction but blown away (literally) by the exultant music and the brilliant playing. Overall the 25-minute Fantasias (five in number) - with some Ligeti and Tippett ‘moments’ is kaleidoscopic in its colours, exhilarating in its energy, and captivating in its lyrical wonder. This excellent performance under Vladimir Jurowski – much appreciated by the composer – was recorded by the LPO, hopefully for a release devoted to Anderson’s music, which would be very welcome.
The Mozart was delightfully done, the ear momentarily adjusting to the small orchestra after Anderson’s full resources. Lightly and perkily accompanied, Janine Jansen was both intimate and outgoing, and very romantic in her first entry. This was a nicely variegated account, the slow movement particularly touching, and the finale exuded courtly elegance and a nice line in legerdemain
leading into an exciting ‘Turkish’ episode. Joachim was owned-up as the writer of the first-movement cadenza – from Mozartean grace to Brahmsian fantasy via Paganinian pyrotechnics.
Jurowski has made periodic visits (always in the winter) to Tchaikovsky’s Manfred Symphony. The first (from 2004 when he was the LPO’s Principal Guest Conductor) was issued on the LPO’s label. Seven years later there is a strong case for also issuing this latest account (once the barrage of coughing has been airbrushed out! Ian McKellen’s announcement to noise-makers was not aired on this occasion) – for this performance had a confidence and identification with the music that perhaps was not so evident earlier. Despite it being one of Tchaikovsky’s supreme achievements – and one of his most sophisticated and dazzling pieces of orchestration – Manfred Symphony is often excluded from so-called Tchaikovsky cycles. Written between the Fourth and Fifth Symphonies, Byron’s Manfred inspired the composer to create music of stunning power (the end of the first movement is spectacular), beguiling beauty and vivid characterisation.
For this compelling LPO performance (without the cuts and emendations that some conductors have inflicted on this great music), Jurowski now sported antiphonal violins (violists had sat outside-right for the first half) and ten double basses added appropriate weight. Jurowski seems to have added greater rhetoric to previously, finding affecting expressive depth – not least in the third movement ‘Pastorale’ (very convincingly adagio rather than the marked Andante con moto, and oboist Ian Hardwick was eloquence personified) – and unleashing a music-serving virtuosity that brought off the very tricky, off-the-beat ‘Alpine Fairy’ scherzo with quicksilver deftness at a very nifty tempo. The brigands’ bacchanal that opens the finale was heady stuff, the return to the symphony’s lugubrious opening made inevitable. There were a couple of miscalculations: the bell in the third movement, unusually placed off-stage, was too distant and rather inconsequential (surely it should sound a warning); and, conversely, the momentous apotheosis found the organ overloud and emasculated in tone (I’m still waiting to hear Tchaikovsky’s requested harmonium), yet the poignant ending (Tchaikovsky at his most heartfelt) was deeply moving ... and, rare on this occasion, concluded with bars of silence that were not intruded upon.