London Philharmonic/Gullberg Jensen & Nelson Goerner – Brahms & Sibelius … Foyle Future Firsts/Stroman

Piazzolla, arr. John Adams
La Mufa – Tango
Stroman
Study for Triple Quintet [World premiere]
Lutosławski
Chain 1
Turnage
Crying Out Loud

Foyle Future Firsts
Scott Stroman

Brahms
Piano Concerto No.2 in B flat, Op.83
Sibelius
Symphony No.2 in D, Op.43

Nelson Goerner (piano)

London Philharmonic Orchestra
Eivind Gullberg Jensen

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Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 30 May, 2008
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall

Paavo BerglundIt is sad to think that London may not see Paavo Berglund again. The great Finnish conductor has not been in the best of wellbeing for a few years now and he withdrew from this London Philharmonic concert due to “ill health”. Berglund turns 80 next year (on 14 April) and doesn’t feature in the LPO’s 2008/09 Season (no more than Vernon Handley, Ingo Metzmacher and Jonathan Nott do, all conductors, like Berglund, that the LPO has welcomed in recent years but these hopefully on-going relationships seem somewhat fitful). Hopefully, too, Berglund will re-appear – and with a more enterprising programme than the one chosen here: music that Berglund has conducted relatively recently with the LPO and also recorded.

However, Berglund’s indisposition paved the way for Eivind Gullberg Jensen. He becomes Chief Conductor of the NDR Radio Philharmonic Orchestra (Hannover) from the 2009/10 Season. Gullberg Jensen is a tall man, and has a certain imposition, and also an excellent technique to help communicate his individual ideas about the music that he conducts; the members of the LPO responded with clarity and commitment.

Nelson GoernerThe opening of Brahms’s Second Piano Concerto breezed in gently on the horn of Stephen Stirling, Nelson Goerner poetic in his response before launching himself into the striding cadenza that found the piano’s upper-register in fortissimo a little colourless, the pianist relaying the notes rather clinically. At other such moments the performance disappointed; but there were few other reservations.

The first movement was expounded on a suitably expansive scale, truly majestic but not ‘stuck’, for there were convincing changes of pace that balanced rhapsodising and structural direction, any lack of fire being more than delivered in the ensuing scherzo. Kristina Blaumane opened the third movement with a beautifully inward cello solo, Goerner finding his most eloquent and deeply-felt narration, tears assuaged by a deft and mercurial approach to the finale, which, while a notch too fast, was brought off with an engaging joie de vivre. The LPO and Gullberg Jensen contributed much to this ‘symphonic’ account of one of the grandest works in the piano-concerto repertoire.

One could disagree with much of Gullberg Jensen’s approach to Sibelius’s Second Symphony; it was over-emphatic, somewhat mannered dynamically and also episodic – but one didn’t doubt his total conviction as to how the piece should go. The first two movements – played, very effectively, as one – were flowing, intense and dramatically volatile, the second movement being a natural extension of the tensions set up in the first. Less successful were the last two movements in which the trio of the scherzo dragged and the rhetoric of the finale, despite (because of) being well set-up, found its heroic aspects pushed through ungratefully and its reflective ones sentimentalised and torpid. Gullberg Jensen displayed though a gift for revealing and clarifying detail and if certain points tended to be too insistent, he also produced distinctively fibrous textures from the lower strings and an overall sound that glowed if bordering on being over-bright and too brassy.

Eivind Gullberg Jensen. ©Paul BernhardNot quite everything came off (the symphony’s final chord was indecisively concluded and there were some missed oboe notes during a very exposed solo) and one also had the impression that Gullberg Jensen isn’t always ‘there’ for his players at crucial moments for all that his baton is very much the ‘point of the stick’ that Sir Adrian Boult would have advocated. Gullberg Jensen, somewhat over-fond of rubato but with an ear for the past through some subtle use of portamento, will, one imagines, return to the LPO.

This was very much an evening of looking forward. In the pre-concert event, given by what might be termed the LPO’s ‘training orchestra’ for young musicians between college and professional appointments, the versatile Scott Stroman conducting vigorously and introducing engagingly (without the need of a microphone) had put-together a programme that showed off to advantage the players’ many talents, most of them standing (save for pianist, cellist and bass clarinettist) for John Adams’s well-made transcription of Piazzolla’s La Mufa – Tango; slow seductive, gently swaying and becoming heated and edgy.

Stroman’s own Study for Triple Quintet (string quartet and double bass, woodwind quartet, brass quartet, piano and percussion), intended as the first movement of a bigger work, proved inventive and enjoyably ‘cool’ as it ranged from a Hindemith-like opening (or Alan Rawsthorne to English ears) and evolving into something jazzier, roulades of notes streaming along. While one couldn’t necessarily split the fifteen players into three groups of five, Stroman also revealed that the piece is based on “three 4-note chords”.

Mark-Anthony Turnage’s Crying Out Loud – using the biggest ensemble (19 players) – found its rhythmic complexities well negotiated, the soundworld (too?) obviously Turnage’s, the piece at it most engaging in the Stravinsky-like interludes before the work ends in invigorating frenzy. The most inimitable music was Lutosławski’s Chain 1 (for the same instrumental set-up as Stroman’s piece, delete piano and tuba and add harpsichord). Each instrument is a character and the dividing line between wit and theatricality is a thin one indeed; the music, a certain amount of expressive freedom allowed by the composer, built to a multi-layered and tumultuous climax and a fragmented close, leaving no doubt as to Lutosławski’s prowess. A very rewarding 50-minute recital: the future is bright, the future is LPO!


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