LPO/Jurowski – Delights of Basle

Honegger
Pastorale d’été
Debussy
Rhapsodie for alto saxophone and orchestra
Saint-Saëns
Piano Concerto No.5 in F, Op.103
Debussy
Danse sacrée et danse profane
Honegger
Symphony No.4 (Deliciae Basiliensis)

Martin Robertson (alto saxophone)

Artur Pizarro (piano)

Rachel Masters (harp)

London Philharmonic Orchestra
Vladimir Jurowski


Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 28 March, 2007
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Queen Elizabeth Hall

The London Philharmonic has put on some imaginative and well-planned concerts during its residency at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, but none more so than this programme.At its centre was a further welcome revival for Saint-Saëns’s Fifth Piano Concerto (1896) – sometimes termed the ‘Egyptian’ – a work that could yet regain much of the popularity it enjoyed during the first half of last century. Much has been made of the way that its central movement draws in such ‘exotic’ elements as a Nubian love-song, gamelan sonorities and Arabic rhythms. But it is the way these are combined – over an evocative movement that is neither ‘slow’ nor ‘scherzo’, but a freely evolving synthesis of the two – that most compels admiration.

Not that the outer movements – a moderately-paced allegro that elides its sonata-form sections with self-effacing finesse, and a rondo finale of irresistible rhythmic verve and deft melodic appeal – are of much lesser quality; especially when given with the beguiling wit and charm of Artur Pizarro, whose identity with the piece was such that he might well have written it as a vehicle for his own pianism. Vladimir Jurowski ensured an accompaniment as subtle and scintillating as the music requires.

He was equally adept in partnering the soloists of the short Debussy pieces that came either side of the concerto. Martin Robertson was his usual assured self in a rare outing for the Rhapsodie for alto saxophone (1908) though (pace Stephen Johnson) the luxuriant orchestration – largely by Debussy’s colleague Jean Roger-Ducasse – is more in the vein of Dukas and, particularly in the animated closing pages, rather swamps the soloist’s efforts. No such problem occurs in the Danse sacrée et Danse profane (1904), a brace of respectively chaste and alluring pieces whose scoring for strings is a model of lucidity and in which Rachel Masters brought out the poise of the solo writing with full measure.

Honegger was the composer chosen to begin and end the concert, and anyone having heard his fine account of this composer’s ‘Christmas Cantata’ (late last year) will not need reminding of Jurowski’s rapport with this now neglected figure. Pastorale d’été (1920) was given a reading which made the most of its expressive languor – only slightly ruffled by a folk-inflected middle section – and gently undulating motion, though memory recalls that the work’s opening theme is written for a flugelhorn rather than the French horn as here.

Even finer was the account of the Fourth Symphony (1946), whose scoring for chamber orchestra is a marvel of imaginative restraint and with the melodic content of its three movements determining their evolution to a degree that is obscured by the music’s ingratiating quality. Poignant, too, in the way that the outer movements each build to an animated climax, only to fall away into a melancholic recognition that the ‘Delights of Basle’ may be only a diversion from the wider European reality as it stood. A recognition, moreover, that the Fifth Symphony renders from a wholly tragic perspective. Hopefully Jurowski will give that masterly piece in a future season: for now, his insightful and always persuasive way with the present work rounded off this concert in the most pleasurable way possible. Good to report that microphones were present – presumably for the LPO’s own CD label.

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