London Philharmonic/Jurowski [The Mastersingers … Tchaikovsky Symphony 5 … Christine Brewer sings Four Last Songs]

Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg – Prelude to Act I
Four Last Songs
Symphony No.5 in E minor, Op.64

Christine Brewer (soprano)

London Philharmonic Orchestra
Vladimir Jurowski

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 4 May, 2011
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall

Vladimir Jurowski. Photograph: Roman GontcharovAnd the Tchaikovsky was going so well, too … and then Vladimir Jurowski put his foot down and sped through the finale in a way that diminished its stature and left nothing in reserve for the race to the finishing post, the heavily accented and elongated final chords so mannered in relation to what had gone before. Not that Jurowski’s World Record attempt put the London Philharmonic at any great disadvantage, its musicians maintaining the same high level of unanimity and devotion that had distinguished the first three movements, but the last one came across as so empty, hollow even. Nothing but top marks though for the melancholy that was evoked in the symphony’s opening measures, nothing maudlin though, expression and incident candidly observed, Nicholas Carpenter subtly shading the clarinet’s phrases, and for the sense of purpose that launched the Allegro, Jurowski, leaning to Tchaikovsky’s Classical lineage, avoiding any temptation to wallow in or make shapeless the succeeding episodes – he ploughed a rewarding straight line. The Andante cantabile, heralded by a golden-toned and poised horn solo from John Ryan (who had distinguished himself in the Strauss), and poetically complemented by the oboe of Ian Hardwick, was a volatile and passionate affair, the succeeding ‘Waltz’ third movement seductively phrased and sounded, the middle section scurrying with pin-point lightness, woodwinds, graceful earlier on, now nifty. The finale was merely about high speed; and, throughout, some balances were upset by the use of three trumpets (Tchaikovsky requests two – by all means share the burden, but this trumpeter-trio when playing together hectored an unpleasant edge).

As a celebratory opening, and signalling a welcome return to BBC Radio 3 broadcasting concerts live again on a more-regular basis than in the last few years, Jurowski led a rousing and, as Wagner intended, swift opening to Act One of “The Mastersingers” (correctly identified by the LPO as ‘Prelude’ rather than the quite common if erroneous ‘Overture’), with some affecting lyricism along the way. Yet, in a too-bright and rather bass-less projection, the brass stood out rather than being embedded into the texture; nevertheless the rhythmic crispness and motivic interplay was a joy and bodes well for the forthcoming Glyndebourne production with this orchestra and conductor.

Christine Brewer. Photograph: Christian SteinerChristine Brewer and Richard Strauss’s “Four Last Songs” (settings of Hermann Hesse and Joseph von Eichendorff) are synonymous, and this was a fully-seasoned account if one short of wonderment. It took Brewer a little while to settle intonation-wise into the opening ‘Frühling’ (Spring) and louder singing tended to be somewhat shrill overall, but balance was generally excellent, the singer not dominating the filigree orchestral details (very lucidly revealed on their own terms) in ‘September’, while the gravitas of ‘Beim Schlafengehen’ (On Going to Sleep) was fully explored, aided by a chaste violin solo from Pieter Schoeman, and ‘Im Abendrot’ (In the Sunset) had a poignant sense of farewell, always dignified and made the more touching by the flutes’ birdsong, a peaceful even radiant acceptance of things gone and about to come to an end.

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