Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune
Accused: three interrogations for soprano and orchestra [co-commissioned by London Philharmonic Orchestra, Radio France, Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Cleveland Orchestra and Carnegie Hall: world premiere; sung in French, German and English with English surtitles]
Tristan und Isolde – Prelude to Act I
Le Poème de l’extase, Op.54
Barbara Hanningan (soprano)
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: 28 January, 2015
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall
It was a shame to lose Debussy’s music for Gabriele d’Annunzio’s Le martyre de Saint Sébastien, the so-called Symphonic Fragments in this instance, for this incidental music’s mysteriously translucent orchestration and dark passions fitted perfectly with the rest of the programme as originally designed. But, with the new Lindberg longer than expected, the saint became a faun, roughly a half shorter in length, here given an outing that was cool and superfine launched by guest flautist Michael Cox (from the BBC Symphony Orchestra), Vladimir Jurowski conducting from the off, conjuring a fluid, at times precipitate if ultimately organically blossoming account that was rather chaste (in music that can be erotic).
However long Magnus Lindberg’s Accused: three interrogations was anticipated as being (or as requested), it had been raised to 30 minutes within days of this LPO premiere (bringing with it the Debussy change) and then took 35 on the night. Scored for a standard full orchestra, Lindberg has set the transcripts of three grillings that all come under the category of citizen versus state, from the time of the French Revolution for Mademoiselle Théroigne de Méricourt, then to East Germany in the 1960s for a Stasi (Ministry for State Security) interview, and finally to more-recent times, the WikiLeaks trial of Bradley Manning.
On paper, literally, the various exchanges seemed limited beyond reading them as fact, so all praise to Lindberg for creating such a multi-faceted score, playing continuously in an accessible and communicative style, colourfully orchestrated with suggestions of the operatic and the cinematic, if maybe not enough differentiation save for the changes of language. Intense drama is part of the whole but so too the feeling that there are expansions that border on the indulgent, if brightened by the final “vocalise to freedom”.
If there are reservations with the piece, there were none on behalf of the performance, the LPO pristine and totally responsive to Jurowski’s insightful direction. Barbara Hannigan, as versatile as she is brilliant, was amazing, absolutely prepared and committed, dealing easefully with the Lulu-like stratospheric writing (and there is quite a lot of Berg in Lindberg’s idiom) as part of a wide range of demands made on the singer. With Hannigan it’s easy to run out of superlatives, for she draws you in and doesn’t let go, not through force but because of natural charisma and being a terrific musician. Magnus Lindberg (the recently appointed LPO’s Composer-in-Residence, succeeding Julian Anderson) seemed delighted with this first outing, certainly it was hugs all round.
After the interval – during which time Jurowski had the second violins and the violas swap places to give apposite antiphonal fiddles, and the double basses were increased to the conductor’s favoured ten – found highly-charged Wagner and Scriabin going very well together. The Prelude to Tristan was slow-burn suspense, played with much dynamism, beauty and feeling, a lava-flow of emotion, but the composer’s concert ending, however thematically related, meanders somewhat and takes the music away from the stage.
The largest orchestra needed in this concert was for Scriabin’s The Poem of Ecstasy (1908), extravagant yes but a masterpiece of lucid scoring, from delicate to eruptive. The mysterious opening chord was perfectly together and balanced, Jurowski simmering the music’s contemplations, volatility and transcendence. It’s impossible to forget the epic account that Lorin Maazel and the Philharmonia Orchestra gave at this address in December 2012, in which everything was taken further without losing the thread and the rousing overflow at the end was stupendous, but Jurowski created a different sense of space and delays, convincing in themselves, reaching for the sky and not shirking from orgiastic tumult, the LPO riding high, not least Pieter Schoeman’s seductive violin solos and Paul Beniston’s heroic contributions on trumpet.