Revealing Tchaikovsky – The Fairy’s Kiss & Winter Daydreams

The Fairy’s KissTchaikovsky
Symphony No.1 in G minor, Op.13 (Winter Daydreams)

London Philharmonic Orchestra
Vladimir Jurowski

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 22 October, 2008
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall

Vladimir Jurowski. Photograph: Roman GontcharovThis intriguing series, which runs until 7 November, has a dedicated website and involves the London Philharmonic and Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment under the artistic directorship of Vladimir Jurowski. To give an idea of the project’s range, this first concert began with ‘Tchaikovsky transformed’, in the manner of Stravinsky taking numerous piano pieces and songs (including “None but the lonely heart”) as the basis for his 1927-28 ballet score, The Fairy’s Kiss (Le Baiser de la fée), music that preserves Tchaikovsky’s spirit in a manner that is a wholly Stravinskian – “… an opportunity of paying my heartfelt homage to Tchaikovsky’s wonderful talent.”

This performance (the score given complete, unlike a previous outing that Jurowski conducted), beautifully detailed and as lucid as could be wished for, delighted in deft and sensitive playing from the London Philharmonic. One could quibble some of Jurowski’s faster tempos as being too quick, which became unrelenting; and while a tendency to be hasty lost some delicious moments, there were other times when the pace dragged. If a somewhat sectional approach was the overall result, there was much to relish in the vivid detailing and pungent sonorities that were produced; also there was no doubting – however brilliant the scoring and this performance – that this is Russian music. There were some very fines solos – from horn (player unidentified, it wasn’t the suggested Richard Bissill, but the guest principal pirouetted with grace!), cello (Susanne Beer) and clarinet (Robert Hill).

Jurowski has tinkered with orchestral layout during his LPO tenure; here he had a line of horns – tuba – trombones (in that order) in the centre of the platform with trumpets placed to the right. That didn’t prevent the latter section being consistently too loud in the Tchaikovsky, sometimes irksome in their domination, and although the use of antiphonal violins made many a ‘point’, the double basses (despite being eight in number) were a bit light-sounding (if not in the Stravinsky) making one regret that the ten basses the LPO now quite regularly sports were not in evidence (the RFH does need a bass boost!).

The performance didn’t quite add up, however well prepared and played it was. The opening movement lacked mystery and ‘chill’, and was somewhat frenetic, although Ian Hardwick’s plangent oboe solo was a notable feature. The scherzo was pushed along, ensemble slightly strained, and the ebullience of the finale was a little too clinical (with some bass drum strokes more in-keeping with the 1812 Overture!), yet the latter’s slow introduction was an absorbing solemn processional and the ‘Land of Desolation, Land of Mists’ second movement was the absolute highlight – darkly rich string-playing, dynamic niceties, and an operatic suspense that compelled attention.

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