Jurowski and the LPO – 6th March

Photograph of Kaija Saariaho

Lieutenant Kije – Suite, Op.60
Aile du Songe [LPO joint-commission: UK premiere]
The Firebird (complete)

Camilla Hoitenga (flute)
London Philharmonic Orchestraconducted by Vladimir Jurowski

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 6 March, 2002
Venue: Royal Festival Hall, London

For the second ’Composer in Focus’ concert featuring the music of Kaija Saariaho, the London Philharmonic gave the UK premiere of Aile du Songe (Curving Dream) – which might be described as a concertante work for flute and orchestra, its two movements complementary in mood and pacing.

The first, ’Aerial’, opens with an otherworldly ’Prelude’ before passing through the instrumental intricacy of ’Garden of birds’, concluding with the vaguely gamelan-like textures of ’Other shores’. The second movement, ’Terrestrial’, moves from the lightly energetic rhythms of ’Dancing bird’ – a scherzo of astonishing dexterity – to the coda of ’Bird, a tiny satellite’, a synthesis of musics already heard, whose sustained solo line gave the work a final repose.

Camilla Hoitenga brought her customary flair and sensitivity to the solo part, which employed the gamut of flute techniques, including ones she has herself developed. Vladimir Jurowski and the LPO were committed in support. If, as an overall piece, this was emotionally lightweight compared to the involving Graal Théatre heard last year, its elegance and panache ought to have made Saariaho new friends.

The outer works were complementary to an effective degree. Jurowski brought out the haunting atmosphere of Lieutenant Kije’s birth and burial, but rather rushed the ’Romance’ – its insinuating double-bass melody given little room to express itself. The evergreen wedding and ’Troika’ numbers were incisive, but lacking a degree of panache.

Much the same could be said of The Firebird heard in its complete format. Unlike Stravinsky’s later ballets, there’s a fair amount of ’choreographic music’ here that can seem redundant in the concert hall, but Jurowski steered a firm course through these sections, emphasising instrumental colour and shading. The main set pieces were generally well handled, including a buoyant ’Scherzo with the golden apples’ and expressive but never mawkish accounts of the ’Round dance’ and ’Berceuse’. The brooding ’Introduction’ lacked anticipation, while ’Firebird’s Dance’ and ’Supplication’ were rather rushed – saturated with Scriabin-isms they may be, but worth savouring all the same.

Most disappointing was Jurowski’s superficial dash through the ’Apotheosis’ – again, derivative of Stravinsky’s models, but an ending that can be exhilarating given a little subtlety. Throughout, the LPO’s playing suggested a level of concentration beyond which it was not prepared to go – despite Jurowski giving them many opportunities to do so. Such would have turned an enjoyable performance into a memorable one.

  • The next LPO Saariaho concert is on May 19 – Christoph Eschenbach conducting Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No.1 (Lang Lang), Brahms’s First Symphony and the London premiere of Saariaho’s Nymphea Reflection
  • RFH Box Office 020 7960 4201 www.rfh.org.uk

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