Violin Concerto (To the memory of an angel)
Symphony No.6 in B minor, Op.74 (Pathétique)
Christian Tetzlaff (violin)
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Reviewed by: Douglas Cooksey
Reviewed: 25 May, 2005
Venue: Royal Festival Hall, London
The final concert from the London Philharmonic before the Royal Festival Hall’s protracted closure for refurbishment was an elegiac affair, marking the end of the orchestra’s 54 years of continuous music-making in the Hall. Had the programme been saddled with one of those tags so beloved of marketing departments, it would have doubtless been “Death and Transfiguration” since all three works are linked by the theme of death, resignation and acceptance. The programme itself may have been sombre but the quality of the performances was a cause for celebration, and recorded for the LPO’s own label.
The LPO clearly enjoys a special relationship with Vladimir Jurowski – both as its Principal Guest Conductor and through his directorship at Glyndebourne – and played for him with warmth, precision and commitment. Messiaen’s large-scale L’Ascension was a bold choice for an opener. It was distinguished by confident brass chording in the opening movement, some superbly poetic cor anglais playing from Sue Bohling in ‘Alleluias sereins’ and viscerally exciting string playing in the ecstatic ‘Alleluias sur la trompette.
In the Violin Concerto (dedicated by Alban Berg to the memory of Manon Gropius who died at the age of eighteen), Christian Tetzlaff replaced Lisa Batiashvili. In this repertoire Tetzlaff seems not so much to play the notes as to inhabit the music – so that the concerto’s inherent psychodrama, its angst, anger and acceptance all registered in a quite remarkable way. Just occasionally Jurowski, a sensitive and observant accompanist, allowed the orchestra to overpower the soloist but the identification and commitment was palpable.
The Pathétique was splendidly played, not least the exquisite clarinet of Nicholas Carpenter – how vital the first clarinet is throughout this piece and not just at the obvious ultra-quiet moment before the first movement’s thunderclap. For such an established repertory work, the symphony is full of interpretative pitfalls – how to structure the different sections of the first movement arch, how to maintain intensity at key moments, and how much to hold back in the third movement March. In Jurowski it found a near-ideal interpreter who balances heart and head, giving full reign to the drama but at the same time calculating enough to remain in full control. The 5/4 Waltz was notably rich and elegant whilst the dignified, Adagio finale, taken quite swiftly, was an excellent antidote to the morose lucubration to which it is sometimes subjected (and all the more effective for it).
After much applause Jurowski spoke briefly but eloquently of the Orchestra’s RFH history, and the LPO took its farewell of the ‘old’ Festival Hall with a darkly glowing performance of the Act Three Prelude from “Die Meistersinger” – an apt and imaginative choice.