London Philharmonic/Vladimir Jurowski – Julian Anderson’s Alleluia and Beethoven’s Choral Symphony

Julian Anderson
Symphony No.9 in D minor, Op.125 (Choral)

Emma Bell (soprano), Anna Stéphany (mezzo-soprano), John Daszak (tenor) & Gerald Finley (baritone)

London Philharmonic Choir

London Philharmonic Orchestra
Vladimir Jurowski

Reviewed by: Alan Sanders

Reviewed: 1 March, 2014
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall

Vladimir Jurowski. Photograph: Julian Anderson’s Alleluia was written to celebrate the re-opening of the Royal Festival Hall after refurbishment in 2007. It is a setting of Latin verses known as the “Alleluia Sequence” and has an appropriately outgoing, jubilant character, with some intriguing choral sounds and colourful scoring for a large orchestra containing the usual extensive helping of assorted percussion instruments favoured by contemporary composers. It was sung and played brilliantly and made an effective 15-minute prelude to Beethoven’s Ninth: the concert was given without an interval.

At the beginning of the ‘Choral’ Symphony, Vladimir Jurowski’s intentions were immediately evident. There was no sense of mystery, no anticipation of something extraordinary about to happen. It was a simple exposition of the score’s opening paragraphs, taken at an impatiently fast tempo. And thus it continued; a hasty, literal and gabbled run-through, with few inflections and not a hint of the music’s true greatness. So it was in scherzo, again rushed. The natural inner pulse of the music was entirely missing; the music charged along, sometimes metronomically. The trio was taken at a furious, almost incoherent pace, the LPO playing obediently and efficiently, players given no room for individual expression in solo passages.

Far be it for the third movement to always be taken in the intensely slow, ruminative manner favoured by conductors in the past, Furtwängler especially: despite the Adagio molto marking it becomes a much more effective entity when taken at a flowing tempo. Jurowski’s basic tempo was swift, yet he continually pushed the music forward; there was little real expression in his conducting. Matters did not initially improve in the finale, and at first both the excellent chorus and the admirable soloists (placed behind the orchestra) were held on a very tight rein. But as the movement developed Jurowski relented a little, and he more or less allowed the music its intrinsic expression. So – at last – we experienced the full force of Beethoven’s mighty inspiration and the work came to a joyful conclusion.

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