The Love for Three Oranges – Suite
Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra
Piano Concerto in D
Symphony No.6 in B minor, Op.54
Emanuel Ax (piano)
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: 18 March, 2011
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall
Joseph Haydn was here the intruder on Russian soil, even if Shostakovich was the only native ‘at home’ when writing this symphony (1939); Prokofiev was in the States for his opera (1921), and the Paris of 1929 found Stravinsky at the piano with Ernest Ansermet conducting for the first performance of Capriccio. The London Philharmonic and Vladimir Jurowski had just returned from a short tour, these works thoroughly rehearsed and concertised, and here dedicated to the “recent tragic events in Japan” (the devastating earthquake and tsunami).
The Suite from Prokofiev’s surreal opera found Jurowski moving the third-placed ‘March’ to final position – for no particular or effective reason, although it proved the pick of the six movements, fantastical and with a hollow broadening in the home straight. Otherwise, for all the squeaky-clean textures and precise playing there was something too studied about Jurowski’s conducting, resulting in a lack of the macabre and of sarcasm; upper strings were just a little suspect in ‘The Prince and Princess’ although it was affectingly expressive.
Shostakovich 6, superbly executed, was also inconsistent. The first movement, broadly paced but not somnambulant, took its mournful statements from the depths, bronzing horns mounting an outcry, woodwinds adding astringency. Sue Bohling’s cor anglais solos and those of flautist Sue Thomas were lyrically indicative as the music moved through eerie chill and claustrophobia to some sense of consolation, Paul Richards adding a fleeting but significant cameo on bass clarinet. The two fast movements that follow were, to say the least, on the brisk side, to the extent that it was more about getting the notes in place rather than going beyond them; there wasn’t enough room for the second-movement Allegro to explode with the vehemence it needs, and the finale (here Presto-plus) was harried (Pieter Schoemann coped manfully with the violin solo without quite having the time to shape it ideally), there being little opportunity to romp the carnival atmosphere or underline any satire Shostakovich intended. But then – and here’s the real irony – it was Mark Elder, an old and current friend of the LPO, who had set the highest of markers in this work when he conducted the LSO in it last June. As involving and as ominous Jurowski and the LPO had made the first movement, quite magisterial in fact, those that follow were barnstorming and character-restrictive if decent-enough orchestral theatre.
The LPO and Jurowski were stylish accompanists to Emanuel Ax, although the col legno effects in Haydn’s finale seemed peculiar to this performance, presumably some whimsy on the part of the conductor, and certainly palling very quickly. Otherwise the piece and this account of it were a delight, Ax, effervescent and affectionate, and gentle and affable in the slow movement, conjuring pearly notes from the piano, enjoyed the solo part’s fancy to ensure that Haydn’s sleights and capriciousness were constantly ear-catching, the LPO members not found wanting in colouring and shading Haydn’s harmonic flirtations. Stravinsky’s Capriccio was altogether special. It’s as if Bach and Poulenc were one and the same composer but could be no-one other than Stravinsky in droll, sometimes smile-inducing music, madcap but not subversive, dryly witty, stealthy, coolly attractive, a score that ranges from madly-gay insouciance to Broadway via the Ballets Russes. Capriccio’s rhythmic choreography needs impeccable point and timing, which it received here from Ax (poised, laconic and incisive) and a meticulous LPO, whether solo strings or in discursive consort.