Piano Concerto No.20 in D minor, K466
Alexander Nevsky Cantata, Op.78
Maria João Pires (piano)
Marianna Tarasova (mezzo-soprano)
London Philharmonic Choir
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse
Reviewed: 12 June, 2003
Venue: Royal Festival Hall, London
The current concert season nears its end. The London Philharmonic’s latest Composer-in-Focus project concluded with a revival of Khorovod – the work that effectively launched Julian Anderson’s career back in 1994. Whatever else, it demonstrates the ways in which folk – or, more accurately, folk-derived ideas –generate the melodically-rich and rhythmically-buoyant material prevalent over the piece’s 13 minutes.
The opening section, with its riot of activity around octave Cs, has momentum sustained through the stylised Lithuanian and Spanish episodes – jazzy and insinuating by turns. Only then is something approaching a khorovod reached, starting as a measured ’round dance’ and accelerating towards a peak of mechanistic velocity – before falling back into a berceuse which clinches the tonal groundplan in a mood of calm valediction. The 15 soloists drawn from the LPO gave a purposeful account of this intricate music, guided by Vladimir Jurowski with skill and flair in what was the most convincing of the orchestra’s three Anderson performances this season.
The stylistic difference between Anderson and Mozart is less marked than might seem the case – tonal subtlety being allied to rhythmic flexibility in both. Qualities that Maria João Pires is wonderfully adept at revealing, though her intimacy of manner and nuances of touch are not heard to best advantage in the dry immediacy of the Festival Hall. The opening ’Allegro’ felt a little strait-laced, emotion kept on a tight rein, though a sparkling account of the cadenza (Pires’s own?) restored some vitality. Here and in the closing ’Rondo’, Jurowski provided secure if unexceptional support, attentive to the letter of the music but rarely plumbing its depths. The ’Romance’, elegant but wistful and with a welcome streak of impulsiveness in the stormy central episode, was altogether more compelling.
Depth of feeling is not necessarily an issue in the cantata Prokofiev drew from his score to Sergei Eisenstein’s 1938 film Alexander Nevsky, though to dismiss it as merely anti-German propaganda would be to ignore the character and sheer panache of the music itself. Jurowski is clearly at home in the piece, and there were some impressive things here – above all “The Crusaders in Pskov”, its elements representing the Teutonic invaders and the Russian people worked into a fantasia of wrenching harmonic plangency and stark contrasts.
The choral numbers were lustily dispatched by a small but well-drilled London Philharmonic Choir, and Jurowski made the most of the brief but evocative offstage contributions normally passed over. If “The Battle on the Ice” fell a little too clearly into its constituent sections, the excitement created – rather than merely simulated – was considerable, this intensity maintained through an expressive account of “The Field of the Dead”, Marianna Tarasova’s rich-toned mezzo contributing to a mood of heightened eloquence. Nothing dutiful about Prokofiev’s musical response here, or indeed Jurowski’s, in what is likely to prove among the more convincing performances of this work in ’Prokofiev year’.