Piano Concerto No.5 in E flat, Op.73 (Emperor)
Symphony No.1 in C minor [1866 Linz version: edited Carragan?]
Lars Vogt (piano)
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse
Reviewed: 30 November, 2011
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall
This Austro-German concert began with a revival of Towards Osiris (2005) – Matthias Pintscher’s ‘asteroid’ which led to the larger Osiris two years on. Most of the latter work’s salient motifs are present – the virtuoso trumpet ‘break’, intricate percussion patterns and brass crescendos that provoke an imperious climax before violins headily ascend into nothingness – but benefit from a much tauter formal design. Vladimir Jurowski steered a clear course through music exacting in its instrumental and temporal co-ordination, so reinforcing the piece’s claims as a worthwhile curtain-raiser – though one member of the audience evidently disagreed.
Hopefully said listener gained greater satisfaction from Beethoven’s ‘Emperor’ Piano Concerto. Lars Vogt seems to have adopted a leaner and more muscular tone than hitherto – which, heard in combination with the London Philharmonic’s incisive response, ensured a performance as focussed as it was impulsive, though one which largely eschewed the rhetorical intensity of the opening Allegro in particular. Best was the hushed expectancy of the lead-in to the reprise and that of the ‘false cadenza’ which, along with the extended coda that follows, is this movement’s biggest formal conceit. The Adagio had poise yet surprisingly little pathos though Vogt impressed with a mesmeric anticipation of the finale’s main theme, while the latter movement was more notable for the dexterity of its alternate episodes than the overly headlong manner of its refrain. Even so, an engaging account, which makes one keen to hear Vogt in a complete Beethoven concerto cycle.
Jurowski has thus far tended to leave Bruckner to others of the LPO’s conducting roster, though his prowess in early- and mid-Romantic repertoire justified his tackling the First Symphony and the resulting performance did not disappoint. Completed in 1866, the work had the misfortune of continuing a symphonic lineage that was curtailed by the premature deaths of its main exponents (Mendelssohn and Schumann) as well as setting out on a course the composer himself chose not to pursue. As such, it remained in contextual limbo – greeted with bemusement as its 1868 premiere in Linz and not heard again for over two decades, by which time a far-reaching (Vienna) revision made it all but impossible to assess its salient virtues. Even the ‘original version’ was until recently based on an 1877 revision, though the publication of William Carragan’s edition has made it possible to hear the work that Bruckner initially envisaged, and it seemed to be this to which Jurowski adhered in all essentials.
He might have made even more of the opening Allegro’s harmonic and rhythmic audacity, though its various textural pitfalls were ably negotiated while the seeming prolixity of its development was as finely channelled as the driving energy of its coda was purposefully resolved. With its evoking of Berlioz and, more bizarrely in the coda, Delibes, the Adagio has an uncharacteristic ardency and sensuousness which Jurowski responded to fully, while also making light of the awkward continuity across the movement’s central section. The scherzo was bracingly delivered, its crackling syncopation pointedly contrasted with a trio which was never lethargic in its rumination, but the finale proved the highlight in its harnessing of the movement’s seemingly disparate content to a momentum that was maintained though a wide-ranging development and on to a coda which, for all its tendency to overkill, evinces a dynamism and conviction that Bruckner was not to surpass for a decade.
It would be interesting know when the LPO last played the work, but its response here was more than equal to the task and the applause suggested delighted surprise on the part of the audience. Jurowski could yet blaze a trail for this symphony, though the present account would be well worth releasing on the LPO’s own label.