CBSO/Jurowski – 1 July

Le Martyre de Saint Sebastian – Symphonic Fragments
Piano Concerto No.4 in G, Op.58
Symphony No.4 in C, Op.112

Alexei Lubimov (piano)

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra
Vladimir Jurowski

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 1 July, 2003
Venue: Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Coupling these three works made for an unlikely programme that worked well in performance. In particular, the symphonic fragments that André Caplet arranged from Debussy’s incidental music to Gabriele d’Annunzio’s would-be erotic drama emerged as bigger and more emotionally charged than usual. Vladimir Jurowski found real passion in the ’Danse extatique’ and a palpable catharsis in the closing ’Le Bon Pasteur’. Moreover, what normally passes as mere decadence in the religio-mystic garnish here conveyed almost Mussorgskian gravity: appropriate to a score whose melodic and harmonic continuity are far more deliberate than elsewhere in Debussy’s later work, and reinforcing an approach which was plausibly symphonic and hardly fragmentary.

The account of Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto which followed must also have raised a few eyebrows – not least Alexei Lubimov’s graceful arpeggio leading into the familiar opening chords. But then, Lubimov’s study of period practice and the fortepiano predate the era of authenticity now drawing to a close, and are integral to an interpretative approach that finds spontaneity in works all too often dispatched as ’standard repertoire’. The poetic opening movement duly benefited from the capriciousness of the discourse between soloist and orchestra, with Lubimov finding real coherence in the earlier and more prolix of Beethoven’s cadenzas.

The contrast between strings and piano in the ’Andante’ was starkly drawn, opening an expressive gulf filled by the Rondo finale. Contrast in the heft of the main theme with the pastel-shaded delicacy of the intervening episodes was again more marked than usual, but with Jurowski showing himself to be an astute accompanist, an equable outcome was never in doubt. Lubimov’s visits are always to be anticipated, and it would be good to hear him introduce Valentin Silvestrov’s powerful Metamusic (a ’symphony for piano and orchestra’, recently released on ECM) to the UK, Symphony Hall being the ideal acoustic.

It certainly worked to the advantage of Prokofiev’s Fourth Symphony – heard in the lengthier and heavier 1947 revision with which the ailing composer attempted to round off a trilogy of large-scale symphonies dealing with the aftermath of war. Yet what, in the 1930 original version (Op.47), is an awkward compromise between a neo-classical symphony and ballet suite fared little better second time around. As David Gutman implies in his programme note, the best solution is to goad listeners into believing that the piece does work in practice – which, taking all things into consideration, it did tonight.

A number of slips in ensemble denoted the unfamiliarity of the work to the CBSO (it has possibly played neither version before), but these were as little compared to the cumulative intensity which Jurowski drew from the opening movement – its brazen central climax clinging to the right side of bombastic – or the skill with which he harnessed the seemingly contrary elements of the ’Andante’ so that its initial pathos was never compromised. The leisurely Intermezzo had the right insouciance, and a tight rein was kept on the rather wanton rhythmic drive of the finale – its grandiloquent ’new’ ending as unexpected as its affirmation is hard-pressed. Whatever else, the symphony effectively made its point in a performance which, along with a recent account of Alexander Nevsky, confirms Jurowski as a Prokofiev interpreter of some distinction.

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