London Philharmonic New Season – VW8 … Turnage Premiere … Atmosphères … The Rite of Spring

Vaughan Williams
Symphony No.8 in D minor
Mambo, Blues and Tarantella – Concerto for Violin and Orchestra [London Philharmonic Orchestra commission with support from the Michael Marks Charitable Trust, and by the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra and Toronto Symphony Orchestra: World premiere]
The Rite of Spring

Christian Tetzlaff (violin)

London Philharmonic Orchestra
Vladimir Jurowski

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 24 September, 2008
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall

Vladimir Jurowski. Photograph: Roman GontcharovThe London Philharmonic Orchestra opened its new season with a very attractive mix of works – Vladimir Jurowski conducting Vaughan Williams being a particularly tantalising prospect – and drew a large audience.

No doubt prompted by 2008 being fifty years since Ralph Vaughan Williams’s death, that Jurowski programmed one of the less-obvious of his symphonies proved a great success; he conducted the underrated Eighth with total conviction – like a native! (This concert remembered the late Vernon Handley.) The searching first movement had genuine gravitas, nipping and tucking with aplomb in the faster sections and opening up with heartfelt glow in the eloquent ruminations. The second movement scherzo (for winds) equated to the English military-band tradition (rather than to the Weill and Shostakovich allusions that have recently surfaced); these were folksy hobgoblins and the section that serves as a trio was ideally integrated at a related on-the-move tempo. Jurowski could have taken a more spacious view of the wonderful ‘Cavatina’ that follows, here a pastoral hymnal, its mystic heart seized upon at its mid point, the LPO’s strings in radiant form. The finale, with its gongs and ‘spiels, was festive, a little lacking in intensity but suitably ‘airborne’ and played with spirit.

Christian Tetzlaff. Photograph: alexandra-vosding.deAfter music characteristic of its composer but treading new roads, Mark-Anthony Turnage’s violin concerto (a notch less than 20 minutes), written for Christian Tetzlaff, came as a disappointment (certainly after the compelling Chicago Remains heard at this year’s Proms). However recognisably by him, the first movement, pulsating and gawky, seemed too regurgitated from earlier Turnage pieces. Although the finale (‘Tarantella’) had some intriguing quirky contrasts, only ‘Blues’ fully engaged, an endless melody decaying at the edges – again typical of the composer but more enduring.

For all that this premiere performance was undoubtedly excellent from all concerned, such a mix of neo-classical jazz (Stravinsky) and lyricism that tugs at the heartstrings (Berg) with the last two movements linked by a cadenza that accumulates speed and emotional release (compare its counterpart in Shostakovich’s First Violin Concerto!), this was an uneasy concoction. (A second bite at it will be afforded when this performance appears on an LPO CD.)

Atmosphères was given a reading of notable finesse that at times bordered on audibility, drawing the listener into Ligeti’s fastidious, often-remarkable frequency-extravagant soundworld, perfectly setting up the bassoon-led Rite of Spring that then sung into its pregnant silence, an unusually lucid, dance-conscious reading with most (if not all) tempos well judged but with no lack of impact when required and made all the more telling for restraint elsewhere. If the very final (literally dying fall) chord was unfortunately ragged, this anti-showpiece detail-conscious freshly scrubbed account had one listening to The Rite with new ears.

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