The Wooden Prince – Suite
Piano Concerto No.2 in A
Symphony No.9 in E minor, Op.95 (From the New World)
Jean-Yves Thibaudet (piano)
London Symphony Orchestra
Reviewed by: Dave Paxton
Reviewed: 13 November, 2008
Venue: Barbican Hall, London
Marin Alsop is an inspirational conductor. Her musical intelligence – allied to an invigorating baton technique – produces performances that are not only direct and unpretentious, but also thrilling and deeply satisfying.
Such was the case in Dvořák’s ‘New World’ Symphony. Alsop not only drew a dazzling array of colours from the London Symphony Orchestra, but she also shaped the entire symphony into a single arc, every motivic reiteration through the four movements casting shadows before and behind it.
Alsop destabilised the slow introduction with pointed use of silence and heightened instrumental contrasts, providing an unstable foundation on which the symphony would sit. The second-movement Largo moved towards the cosmic, exquisite, and a sense of weightlessness. The scherzo takes one from the sub-cosmic to the earthy. The LSO provided warmly balanced textures, crackling rhythms and commendable virtuosity. Alsop led almost directly into the finale, brimming with flickering violin ostinatos and pungent woodwind trills; clouds passed over ominously in the brass. The whole was aesthetically thrilling, Alsop’s energetic conducting imbued Dvořák’s rhythms with spark and fire.
Alsop opened the concert with the suite from Bartók’s ‘dance-pantomime’, The Wooden Prince, opening from the depth on a C major triad, though the comparison to the opening of “Das Rheingold” as propagated by Meirion Bowen’s programme note is misleading: Wagner describes the formation of the world, while Bartók aurally entices an already-created mystical/magical realm. The LSO provided a meticulously detailed soundworld, the changes of mood, or indeed changes of energy, convincingly moulded. A suppressed electric current was present throughout, in the shivering cellos, crying woodwind and rippling celesta.
Jean-Yves Thibaudet was an eloquent and subtly virtuosic exponent of Liszt’s Piano Concerto No.2, the pianist required to encompass extreme technical difficulty and bravura as well as accompanying the orchestra. Thibaudet thankfully resisted the temptation to make himself heard by playing too loudly: his playing was nimble and athletic, and his use of the pedals was evocative and delicately shaded. Alsop did not draw quite as much sparkle out of the LSO, but the cello solo at the centre of the work was phrased with lyricism and soaring beauty.