Symphony No.60 in C (Il distratto)
Concerto in C minor for Piano, Trumpet and String Orchestra, Op.35
Music for Strings, Percussion and Celesta
Simon Trpčeski (piano) & Paul Beniston (trumpet)
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Reviewed by: Douglas Cooksey
Reviewed: 7 December, 2005
Venue: Queen Elizabeth Hall, London
Full marks, once again, to the London Philharmonic for intelligent programme-planning during its enforced move to the Queen Elizabeth Hall. Besides an imaginative and unusual programme (first heard in the QEH on 2 December), which added up to a coherent whole, both the Shostakovich and the Bartók works achieve fullest impact when heard in a smaller hall. Haydn’s characteristic good humour led naturally to Shostakovich’s knockabout First Piano Concerto then to the high searching of the Bartók, although the former has seriousness and the Bartók is not without wit.
Haydn No.60 has six movements and is really a ‘surrogate’ rather than a ‘real’ symphony. It was originally written as the overture and a series of entr’actes for a play “The absent-minded man”, hence the sobriquet “Il Distratto”. The music is appropriately capricious, and in the last movement the violins suddenly pause in mid-flight to check their tuning. Interesting to see the LPO moving so fully into ‘period orchestra’ territory with valve-less horns, a bassoon to double the bass line, a harpsichord and reduced strings playing without vibrato. Jurowski conducted with precision and manifest affection, entering fully into the spirit of the last movement’s ‘joke’ as he wheeled round to address the audience (“I think there was something wrong there”). The quicker movements fizzed along whilst the Adagio’s soulful melody sang sweetly.
The Shostakovich was an absolute blinder, the musical equivalent of watching a ‘Keystone Cops’ movie. There is the same manic glee and you never know what’s going to hit you next. Simon Trpčeski needed a little more Buster Keaton-like deadpan wit – but this was still a tremendous performance. Paul Beniston had the less than grateful task of acting as the ‘side-kick’ that sets up the piano’s antics. Under Jurowski’s crisp direction the orchestra was never knowingly behind, constantly urging its soloist to ever-greater excesses. The ending was an anarchic knockout.
The Bartók is arguably his most completely achieved orchestral piece, one not easy to bring off in its frequent tempo changes and exposed string writing. Jurowski and the LPO were singularly impressive in binding the four movements together as if it were a symphony. Taken quite swiftly, tension never sagged in the palindromic fugue that is the opening Andante tranquillo, which winds up to an anguished climax. The succeeding Allegro had visceral punch whilst the pivotal ‘night-music’ Adagio emerged from the shadows with extraordinary concentration and chill. The finale could have been tidier but it was certainly tingling and thrillingly alive.