The Crazed Moon
Violin Concerto in D, Op.61
Symphony No.4 in F minor, Op.36
Christian Tetzlaff (violin)
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse
Reviewed: 19 March, 2011
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall
Following on from Stations of the Sun, the London Philharmonic audience had a further chance to hear music by the orchestra’s current Composer in Residence. With its twin source of inspiration in the sudden death of a young composer colleague and a lunar eclipse, The Crazed Moon (1997) is among Julian Anderson’s more oblique yet equally personal works. Its commemorative aspect comes through in the sombre processionals that lead up to and away from its central climax – which latter unfolds with a luminosity and eloquence that surely invokes more elemental and also transcendent concerns. Framing all of this are haunting fanfares played by three offstage trumpets that set the tone for what follows as surely as they bestow a last benediction. The piece was sensitively realised by the LPO and attentively directed by Vladimir Jurowski, who deserves credit for reviving a piece that may yet come to be regarded among Anderson’s finest.
The remainder of the programme consisted of standard fare, though ‘standard’ is hardly the right term for describing Christian Tetzlaff’s account of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto. With Jurowski setting a brisk but never inflexible tempo for the opening tutti, the first movement was appreciably less measured than is (too) often the case, though with such particulars as the artless second theme and ruminative woodwind dialogue in the development lacking nothing in expressive license. Tetzlaff is not the first to have adapted the startling cadenza that Beethoven wrote for his (surprisingly prosaic) piano transcription of the work, but few have rendered it with such appreciation of its iconoclasm – not least when timpani emerge (Simon Carrington clearly enjoying this unlikely moment in the spotlight) in a virtual ‘jam session’ of call and response, thus opening out the movement’s expressive range still further. The Larghetto might have benefited from even greater inwardness, for all Tetzlaff’s underlying poise, but the soloist’s animated lead-in to the finale set the tone for an athletic canter with ribald humour well to the fore. The first cadenza was slightly too extended, but the second prepared well for the heightened return of the rondo theme then on to an effervescent coda.
Tchaikovsky has been a mainstay of Jurowski’s programmes since the outset of his tenure as the orchestra’s Principal Conductor, with a cycle of symphonies in the process of appearing on the LPO label. All the more surprising, then, that this account of the Fourth Symphony was a relative disappointment. Not that Jurowski had other than the measure of the complex first movement but, after an ominous introduction, the first theme failed to unfold as a single yet cumulatively intense paragraph, while the fugitive second theme on woodwinds was a little deadpan. From here a secure course was steered through to the development, then on to a reprise which yet unfolded a little predictably and a coda which drew less than the ultimate anguish. As befits its ‘canzona’ marking, the Andantino was kept moving, though its plaintive oboe theme did seem a little prosaic and, while the more extrovert central episode lacked nothing in ardour, the gentle dissolution of the main theme at the close could have been more affecting. Taking the scherzo at less than the breakneck speed favoured by many enabled the LPO string-players to articulate their pizzicato with verve as well as dexterity, while the evocations of rustic revelry and march-past were both deftly inflected. The finale, too, began well – Jurowski giving the orchestra its collective head during the brazen opening theme then bringing the requisite pathos to the folk-tune which follows. The climactic re-emergence of the ‘fate’ motto, however, seemed less than implacable and though the apotheosis was ably controlled, a degree of inhibition remained at the close. An enjoyable account, then, but not the electrifying one that might have been expected.