El amor brujo [selections: Dance of Terror; Dance of the Game of Love: Ritual Fire Dance]
Fire and Blood [UK premiere]
The Firebird [1945 Suite]
Vadim Gluzman (violin)
London Symphony Orchestra
Reviewed by: Peter Reed
Reviewed: 17 April, 2011
Venue: Barbican Hall, London
Just in case the audience missed the point, Kristjan Järvi, in his impromptu address, pointed out that the concert was all about fire, and the LSO dutifully obliged with a sumptuous and scorching performance of ‘Ritual Fire Dance’ from Falla’s El amor brujo. ‘Dance of the Game of Love’ – placed for rousing-finale reasons before it, against the story’s sequence – was nearer to Falla’s unique brand of Spanish passion and mystery, and a reminder that he has a lot more going for him than Iberian-flavoured lollipops. Still, if it was colour you wanted, it came at you like a primary force, and even more so in the Michael Daugherty work.
Fire and Blood, in effect a three-movement violin concerto, was commissioned by Detroit Symphony Orchestra, who gave its premiere in 2003, conducted by Neeme Järvi, Kristjan father. The work is inspired by the Mexican painter Diego Rivera’s “Detroit Industry” murals from 1933, celebrating specifically the city’s motor industry. The paintings are monumental, super-realistic and colour-saturated, with heroic, straining workers (Rivera was an ardent communist) pitted against and dwarfed by the cogs and pistons of huge machines and the colossal perspectives of even-more-gigantic factory interiors. The murals’ graphic energy has a strong, Soviet-style sense of mighty achievement, and Michael Daugherty’s transference of this to music falls somewhere between Soviet brutalism and a sort of Norman Rockwell realism, with the slow movement inspired by the passionate figure of the artist Frida Kahlo, Rivera’s wife. The score teems with ideas that rotate rather than develop, and, in the slow movement especially, big tunes, or rather, one worked-at big tune. There was no instantly discernible voice, but the influences – jazz, Bernstein, Copland – have been thoroughly assimilated, and for all the assertive American flavour, the slow movement has a memorable, heart-on-sleeve emotionalism. Vadim Gluzman was exceptional, his generous romantic style, incredible and nonchalant technique and powerful singing tone marking him out as a major-league player. He was quite stupendous in the moto perpetuo finale, almost to the point of making me believe in the music. The LSO coped with the passages of brightly coloured mariachi music in great style.
The playing in The Firebird was just as compelling, and there was much more room in the music for layers of refinement. Järvi’s athletic conducting style did nothing to lower my resistance to the conductor-as-artwork, all encouraging sunny-beam grins to the orchestra and noble three-quarter profiles to the audience, an over-emphatic, hyper-connective style that left you in no doubt as to the power of image.