LPO/Vladimir Jurowski – Barber, Shostakovich & Stravinsky

Adagio for Strings
Violin Concerto No.2 in C sharp minor, Op.129
The Fairy’s Kiss [abridged]

Boris Garlitsky (violin)

London Philharmonic Orchestra
Vladimir Jurowski

Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse

Reviewed: 8 December, 2006
Venue: Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

This concert was by way of an end-of-year homage to Shostakovich and Stravinsky in the 35th year of thelatter’s death and centenary of the former’s birth.

How Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings fitted in the scheme, other than endowing the evening with a retrospective aura, was unclear. Vladimir Jurowski’s awareness of the Adagio’s heightening dynamic terraces – maximum intensity being placed on the pause that follows the main climax – along with the excellence of the London Philharmonic strings, at least vindicated its inclusion.

Even during a year when performances of Shostakovich have verged on overkill, the Second Violin Concerto has hardly figured. The undemonstrative nature of its virtuosity may well have hindered its wider acceptance, but this makes it all the more suitable for a musician who, like Boris Garlitsky, is at home both at the leader’s desk and under the spotlight. Certainly there was no lack of finish in a solo part that gave even David Oistrakh pause for thought, Garlitsky as committed in the subdued outer sections of the Moderato as in the malevolence of its central exchanges – needle-sharp thanks to the attentiveness of Jurowski’s accompaniment. The Adagio was simply but touchingly rendered, Garlitsky avoiding any temptation to over-milk its pathos, though the cadenza-like passage towards the close lacked rhetorical force. The Allegro unfolded persuasively: soloist and conductor reigned-in its humour until after the central cadenza (which was rightly made integral to the movement overall), when the abrasive, tom-tom led slapstick was duly given its head – almost to the detriment of the performance at one point, but not so that it finished without the requisite flourish.

Coupling one of Shostakovich’s most elusive works with possibly Stravinsky’s most elusive ballet is hardly commercial programming, but one that augurs well for when Jurowski becomes the LPO’s Principal Conductor come the 2007-8 season, and which was rewarded with an almost full house on this occasion.

Jurowski recently made a fine recording of the Divertimento from The Fairy’s Kiss with the Russian National Orchestra, and this account of the ballet was a fine one. Not quite the complete ballet, though, as (to quote the programme) “a few relatively short cuts” had been made. These were not specified (nor was a full synopsis given – vital in a ballet where the relationship between action and music is of the subtlest, and space was available), but that lost consisted of most of the first two numbers from Scene Three and the ‘Entrée’ from the ensuing ‘Pas de Deux’. Only six minutes or so of music in all, but a real pity to lose it when the work as a whole is one of Stravinsky’s most cohesive and integrated.

The performance itself was characterised by telling solos from wind and strings (a good night all round for Guest Principal Horn Jonathan Barrett), with Jurowski distilling a keen atmosphere in the first scene – with its evocations of storm and lullaby – and bringing a robust earthiness to the scene at the village fete (though his phrasing of the brass’s ‘head motif’ was a touch over-exaggerated). The ‘Pas de Deux’ made the most of its Tchaikovskian antecedents, but the resplendence of ‘None butthe lonely heart’ as a climactic transition into the final scene lacked the ultimate rapture – while the remote calm into which the fourth scene itself retreats was sensitively rendered, without evoking the mood of transcendence that other recent performances have drawn from this music (notably Hans Graf’s penetrating account with the City of Birmingham Symphony last year. A persuasive account, all the same, and a fitting second half for this enjoyable and thought-provoking concert.

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