LSO/Gergiev – Debussy & Stravinsky

Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune
Symphony in C
La mer – three symphonic sketches
Symphony of Psalms

London Symphony Chorus

London Symphony Orchestra
Valery Gergiev

Reviewed by: Richard Landau

Reviewed: 19 May, 2010
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

Valery Gergiev. Photograph: Marco BorggreveEssentially, this was to have been a second outing for the LSO’s 12 May concert, but with Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G replacing James MacMillan’s Violin Concerto. However, due to the late withdrawal of Hélène Grimaud, Debussy’s La mer was substituted. Whilst the performance was notable for a myriad of detail, it did not fully capture the impressionistic aspects of the score. Far more atmospheric was Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune, which had opened the programme. Here the mood of Mallarmé’s symboliste poem could hardly have been more languorously or sensually projected, especially with such beautifully veiled playing from flautist Gareth Davies.

Whilst there was again much to admire in the performance of Stravinsky’s Symphony in C – not least the finely tuned winds – the more contemplative, wistful side of the score was partly sacrificed to rhythmic and colouristic concerns. Wholly successful was Stravinsky’s “Symphony of Psalms”, the masterpiece that was born of the composer’s turn towards religion during the late-1920s. Valery Gergiev perfectly captured the work’s austere but at the same time monumental beauty. At the centre of the final movement (‘Alleluja’, with text drawn from Psalm 150) there was some exhilarating orchestral playing, but above all Gergiev showed himself perfectly attuned to the profoundly spiritual nature of the piece. And his reading was graced with superb, perfectly pitched singing from the London Symphony Chorus, prepared for the occasion by Natalie Murray. Indeed, so powerful was the emotional effect of the performance that the audience was reduced to prolonged silence at the close, before finally erupting into aptly unconstrained applause.

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