LPO/Jurowski Mozart & Shostakovich

Symphony No.41 in C, K551 (Jupiter)
Symphony No.14, Op.135

Tatiana Monogarova (soprano)
Sergei Leiferkus (baritone)

London Philharmonic Orchestra
Vladimir Jurowski

Reviewed by: Nick Breckenfield

Reviewed: 18 February, 2006
Venue: Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

Following on immediately from the second Mozart/Shostakovich ‘joke’ concert (which was repeated on Friday 17 February), the London Philharmonic overturned the musical coin to present a much more sober and serious side to both anniversary composers.

Perhaps the G minor Symphony, No 40, would have made the contrast to the previous concert’s A Musical Joke even more effective, but Jurowski played the Jupiter’s opening movement rather sombrely, not at all like the Allegro vivace that Mozart instructs, and enhanced the seriousness by observing the exposition repeat.

Yet that there was much to enjoy. The London Philharmonic was slimmed down as we have come to expect during its QEH residency, and Jurowski played his ‘authentic’ hand: no vibrato, hard timpani sticks and natural horns and trumpets; the sound was clean and lean, though not without character.

Disposing of winds, brass and, indeed, at least a desk of violins, we were left with just 22 players for the second half – two double basses, three cellos, four violas and five-apiece for first and second violins, joined by two percussionists and the celesta. Shostakovich’s 14th Symphony, setting 11 texts by four European poets (Lorca, Apollinaire, Küchelbecker and Rilke), struck home exactly as it should, with its aching portrayals of death, some poignant, some violent and angry.

Sergei Leiferkus, still peerless in this repertory, was joined by soprano Tatiana Monogarova, impressive in her anguish, especially with cello solo accompaniment in “The Suicide”. Obviously a Jurowski favourite (she accompanies him and the Russian National Orchestra to America shortly), and she will next be seen in the UK in Welsh National Opera’s new production of Tchaikovsky’s “Mazeppa” in the summer, and on this showing, definitely worth catching.

Curiously the programme notes omitted any mention of Shostakovich’s friendship with Britten and his inspiration which partly underpins this work – indeed the 14th Symphony is actually dedicated to Britten (who conducted the UK premiere) and Shostakovich’s choice of small ensemble emulates the tenor and works Britten had already written, “Serenade” and “Nocturne”.

Perhaps an extra string player for every part may have added security to some of the passages, but on the whole this was as searing a rendition as Shostakovich must have hoped. It was not, of course, a concert to bound out of with a sunny disposition and though the applause was heartfelt and warm, it seemed clear that the deadly message had hit home. The long silence before that applause was an eloquent indication as to how stunning this work is. Microphones were on hand to record the concert for the LPO’s label.

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