Bernd Alois Zimmermann
Photoptosis – Prelude for large orchestra
Piano Concerto No.3 in C minor, Op.37
Symphony No.4 in E minor, Op.98
Mitsuko Uchida (piano)
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Reviewed by: Alan Sanders
Reviewed: 16 April, 2014
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall
I doubt whether many in the capacity audience had gathered primarily to hear Photoptosis by Bernd Alois Zimmermann (1918-70), one of his last works, from 1968, a “study in instrumental and harmonic colour and texture, without traditional themes or developments, and indeed without a traditional sense of movement”, advised the programme note. But all credit to the London Philharmonic and Vladimir Jurowski for continuing to perform rarely heard contemporary and twentieth-century works. The music’s intriguing sounds and unusual textures held listeners’ attention – no fidgeting or programme page-turning was observed – and a length of thirteen minutes is just right for its style and content, a composition of real substance and gravitas. How sad that Zimmermann made a decision to leave this world at the early age of 52.
In Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto, Mitsuko Uchida underlined its classicism as opposed to conveying the composer’s developing style on his journey towards even greater and deeply personal musical expression. Her exquisitely contrived, soft-grained approach to the first movement brought its own rewards, however, the gentle phrasing and the beauty of tone shedding a rarely experienced and stimulating light on the music. In the Largo Uchida searched the music for profundity, but the result, while often exquisite, found the spacious basic tempo and carefully moulded phrasing sometimes verging on the mannered. The finale, though, was delivered in a very straightforward, though still refined fashion. As a whole Uchida’s reading was quite compelling.
Jurowski’s approach to Brahms’s Fourth Symphony was satisfyingly traditional in its choice of tempos and overall phrasing, but also impressive in the way he introduced some minor but telling expressive devices that didn’t in any way hold up the music’s natural flow, although in the first movement, particularly, the brass was a little over-prominent, and a string section larger than 12/12/10/8/6 would have provided a better balance and a more-plush sound. In the Andante Jurowski presented some particularly subtle changes of pulse that enhanced a beautifully realised account of the movement, and the scherzo had a good, bluff spirit, with a few slight but tellingly effective commas here and there. The passacaglia finale, which Sir Adrian Boult considered the most difficult movement to bring off in all the Brahms symphonies, was well-paced, Jurowski maintaining a concentrated, unbroken line and strong momentum whilst bringing out the contrasted nature of the variations. All in all, it was a thoughtfully considered but vividly presented interpretation of a great masterpiece.