The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh Suite
Symphonic Dances, Op.45
Leonidas Kavakos (violin)
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: 29 October, 2003
Venue: Royal Festival Hall, London
Vladimir Jurowski cuts an elegant figure on the podium; his gestures are for the orchestral musicians. He is forming a close relationship with the London Philharmonic as Principal Guest Conductor. His position of Music Director at Glyndebourne further strengthens the association – the LPO is Glyndebourne’s ’house’ orchestra during the summer months.
A musical rapport was self-evident in the Rimsky and Rachmaninov pieces, the LPO responding with warmth and virtuosity to Jurowski’s keen ear for transparent and well-balanced textures; his music-making is for listening to. He also brings an emotional core without overtly displaying it – as Rachmaninov’s fiery and regretful swansong demonstrated. This was a generally superb account of what is, in effect, the composer’s fourth symphony. Jurowski satisfied the work’s symphonic aspects, its rhythmic buoyancy, its wonderful and complex orchestration, and he revealed Rachmaninov’s passion and sorrow without the need of a trowel.
Eric Mason, in his programme note, infers that the first movement’s ’Non Allegro’ marking is an error. Maybe, but it seems a perfectly valid direction, a warning – composers, Mahler being one, do sometimes advise not to do something. As it was, Jurowski’s tempo was perfectly judged, ’not fast’; in other words taken no quicker than is necessary. The nostalgic middle section, saxophone-led by none other than Martin Robertson, may have been slow – a pejorative statement, for Jurowski justified his tempo by penetrating fully into Rachmaninov’s soul.
Jurowski is neither self-indulgent nor a showman, not one for bolstering dynamics or over-colouring. He is a musician, an unobtrusive presence whose mastery of rubato and innate emotionalism served Rachmaninov’s ultimate opus supremely well; it is a work than can sprawl in the wrong hands. Only at the close did Jurowski’s impeccable delivery slip; the rise in temperature as the music hurtles to destruction came too late, and the self-quotation from the Vespers needs more defiance than Jurowski’s fleet integration. He held the final gong stroke – during which somebody started to applaud! Although Mr Mason’s note implies this effect is notated, my understanding is that the orchestral score does not indicate this; rather the two-piano original has a tenuto marking that some conductors carry forward into the orchestration. Not Eugene Ormandy though who conducted the premiere of Symphonic Dances and made an incomparable recording of it. Jurowski’s interpretation wasn’t dissimilar to Ormandy’s, certainly in terms of discretion and clarity.
Earlier, Jurowski had made a reasonably strong case for orchestral excerpts from Rimsky’s penultimate opera. The ’dawn chorus’ prelude, with its glorious lyrical expanse, comes up fairly regularly (usually as a Temirkanov encore). After this, the score is less distinguished – a possible reference to Wagner’s Forest Murmurs and some intriguing rhythmic paralleling aside – and becomes repetitive, which even Jurowski’s discriminating ear for colour and blend, and the LPO’s sensitive response, couldn’t save. One wonders though at the cost of putting this on – a zither player and no less than six exponents of the balalaika are required. Colourfully dressed they may have been; however, they have but few bars to play and then only as ’internal’ local colour. Church bells rumble towards the end, here achieved through unconvincing sampling – close to the real thing but no substitute for it.
The master and pupil relationship between Rimsky and Stravinsky is well known; however, by the 1930s Stravinsky was in neo-classical mode and his violin concerto is a ’back to Bach’ piece, the soloist a first among equals with Stravinsky’s scaled-down ensemble. This is music that needs a lot of preparatory work on it, which it had received, although there were moments of circumspection and tentativeness. Kavakos, poised and confident, was a little too self-effacing and there was a lack of tonal variety; only the deeply felt threnody of ’Aria II’ brought that little bit more from him. He offered a Paganini Caprice as an encore, musical rather than show-off, and in this respect he and Jurowski made a good team in the Stravinsky.
One thing is certain, for musical discernment, Jurowski and the LPO are a hot ticket.