Symphony No.5 in D, Op.107 (Reformation)
Symphony No.3 in F, Op.90
Sarah Connolly (mezzo-soprano)
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Reviewed by: Peter Reed
Reviewed: 27 October, 2010
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall, London
The London Philharmonic seems to enjoy a special relationship with Mendelssohn – as was memorably demonstrated last year with an electrifying “Elijah” under Kurt Masur last October – and this performance of the ‘Reformation’ Symphony was easily in that five-star league. It’s not performed as frequently as the ‘Scottish’ or the ‘Italian’ – perhaps the inclusion of the ‘Dresden Amen’ and the old chorale-tune ‘Ein’ feste Burg’ are too seriously Teutonic, musical triggers with a specific significance.
It could not have had a more persuasive advocate than Vladimir Jurowski. From the carefully prepared gentle swells in the wind-band’s introduction onwards, he was right inside Mendelssohn‘s unmistakable, febrile, volatile sound, a sound that is at the heart of early German romanticism. The nervous ferocity of the first movement, like the Hebrides on a really bad day, was a reminder of how intense Mendelssohn’s music can be – a world away from the sunlit uplands of the Octet or the ‘Italian’ symphony – and a rebuff to those who say that Mendelssohn’s music never developed. The scherzo had a Mahlerian energy and grace, and the way Jurowski dovetailed the puzzlingly short slow movement into the peroration of the finale was admirable. Above all, it was the sound the LPO produced, especially in the brass and woodwinds, that was so perfectly judged, and which became even more defined in comparison with the treatment of Mahler’s “Kindertotenlieder” (Songs on the Death of Children) – edgy and nervous, but in a completely different way.
Sarah Connolly was remarkable in these unbearably grief-stricken songs. She has the uncanny gift of being able to project her wonderfully subtle voice as part of her whole persona, to the extent that singing is only a part of the process. Nothing in the five songs was overt, she was sparing with the hints of colour to inflect nuances of poems and music, her focus was absolute, and her control of line and floating phrase miraculous. She went as far as anyone could or would want to go in terms of refined distraction, producing a desolation unmatched even by Shostakovich at his bleakest, and Jurowski’s and the LPO’s admission of consolation in the short coda was in its quiet way transcendent.
In Brahms’s Third Symphony, Jurowski made the work’s extremes of heroism and meditative gentleness seem completely unforced, his deceptively unobtrusive and analytical conducting style allowing the first movement’s subtle organisation to speak for itself. The nostalgia of the third-movement intermezzo, as though the music couldn’t bear to let go of the slow movement’s eloquence, was full of haunting half-lights, with some heavenly horn-playing.