London Philharmonic/Jurowski [Two Episodes from Lenau’s Faust … Little Russian Symphony … Alban Gerhardt plays Dvořák]

Two Episodes from Lenau’s Faust [Nocturnal Procession; The Dance in the Village Inn – First Mephisto Waltz]
Cello Concerto in B minor, Op.104
Symphony No.2 in C minor, Op.17 (Little Russian)

Alban Gerhardt (cello)

London Philharmonic Orchestra
Vladimir Jurowski

Reviewed by: Douglas Cooksey

Reviewed: 16 April, 2011
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall

Vladimir Jurowski. Photograph: Roman GontcharovLiszt’s obsession with the Faust legend led not only to A Faust Symphony, but also ‘Nocturnal Procession’ and ‘Mephisto Waltz’. The latter is better known in its piano version; however, Vladimir Jurowski gave us the opportunity to hear it in context paired as Liszt intended with the lengthy and much-rarer ‘Nocturnal Procession’. “Dark clouds hang in the heavens, the forest listens expectantly, it is deepest night…” reads the quotation from Lenau at the head of this louring atmospheric score. With offstage cor anglais and tolling bell this looks back to Berlioz and forward to the soundworld of Busoni’s Nocturne symphonique. There was a lean concentrated quality to the LPO’s playing both here and in the scintillating account of Mephisto Waltz with notably fine solo contributions from Kristine Blaumane on cello and Rachel Masters in the little harp flourish which concludes the Waltz.

Alban Gerhardt. Photograph: albangerhardt.comDvořák’s Cello Concerto received a revelatory if unconventional reading which bucked the trend for the first movement to linger – timings are only a small part of the story, but lopping off two minutes or so on most performances of it, this was the swiftest performance one is likely to hear, although it never felt rushed. Despite swift tempos in the outer movements Alban Gerhardt found time to give full emotional value at significant moments, such as the duet with flute at the heart of the first movement (outstandingly played by Jaime Martín) or in the finale’s moving epilogue, a heartfelt epitaph for Dvořák’s recently deceased and much-loved sister-in-law. Framed by forward-moving tempos, the slow movement assumed its rightful place as the work’s core. Gerhardt may not have the most ingratiating sound but, importantly, it projects well, essential in a work in which – owing to Dvořák’s inclusion of trombones and tuba – balances can frequently be a problem. Jurowski and the LPO offered unusually close cooperation. One delicious moment indicative of such empathy came at the close when the orchestra wells up for the final bars: Jurowski held the moment for an infinity, echoing and intensifying the heartache of Gerhardt’s epilogue.

‘Little Russian’ Symphony was given a performance of absolute conviction. Sinewy and driven it may have been but it showed the work in the best possible light. Given with this degree of panache and finesse, the scherzo and the finale, the latter potentially the work’s Achilles Heel, were resounding, the former crackling with energy, perfectly paced, Jurowski able to maintain momentum in the feather-light dancing trio, and the finale, with its uninhibited elation, was free Vodka for all.

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