Johannes Moser (cello)
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Reviewed by: Richard Whitehouse
Reviewed: 30 October, 2013
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall
Perhaps the most fascinating aspect of this concert was how music that once seemed pointedly subversive has taken its place within the very tradition it once appeared to confound. Not least Lontano (1967) – György Ligeti’s evocation of ‘afar-ness’ that fairly encapsulates the late-Romantic soundworld within its modest dimensions (and how many orchestral works of the era eschew percussion entirely?). Michail Jurowski (father of Vladimir) adopted a relatively swift traversal, the music exuding unexpected purposefulness and its climactic peaks rendered with precision if less of the contemplative intensity others have found in this singular score. The result was to ally the piece more closely to the rhythmic dexterity of those following in its wake.
The abstraction of the Ligeti places it at the furthest remove from Lutosławski’s Cello Concerto (1970), a work that has received more than its share of extra- (or should that be anti-?) musical interpretations. Lithe and incisive though never unaware of its deeper expression, Johannes Moser was audibly attuned to its reimagining of the archetypal relationship between soloist and orchestra whose four continuous sections proceed from a laconic ‘Introduction’ for the cello alone, via an often aggressive series of ‘Episodes’ that involve differing orchestral groups (each of them marked off by brass fanfares) and a raptly expressive ‘Cantilena’ in which the soloist is enfolded within a raptly inward texture, to a ‘Finale’ that translates the soloist’s initial Ds into sustained hammer-blows from whose assault it belatedly emerges for a closing assertion where desperation and defiance are as one. Undemonstrative yet ever-watchful, Jurowski secured a near-ideal accompaniment. Moser duly returned for the ‘Sarabande’ from J. S. Bach’s G major Suite (BWV1007) as a brief yet vital oasis of calm.
What to say about Alfred Schnittke’s First Symphony (1972)? Could it still pack anything like the punch it did when Gennadi Rozhdestvensky introduced it at this venue in 1986? In terms of making a comparable impact in a period of complacent consumerism in the UK as in that of cultural conformism in the Soviet Union almost four decades back, then the answer can only be yes. Not that this account exuded quite the all-out anarchy of that memorable night 27 years ago, Jurowski bringing a detached and often obliquely humorous edge to the comings-and-goings on- as well as off-stage. So the first movement, after its initial processional, was unexpectedly cohesive in its juxtaposing of violent outbursts and allusions to earlier pieces and idioms – building unpredictably yet at the same time remorselessly to its denouement with Beethoven and subsequent disintegration. The scherzo that follows found a viable balance between its Baroque stylism and martial-cum-jazzy affronts, though the improvisatory section that replaces the trio was a little underpowered – for all that leader Laurence Jackson and pianist Catherine Edwards were engaging in an excerpt from Schnittke’s First Violin Sonata that preceded the recessional of woodwind and brass, leaving strings and percussion for a slow movement whose textures were eloquently shaped even if the content at this point could have been more expansive and enveloping.
Come the finale and the return of the wind sections was again a little too orderly, but how vividly Jurowski controlled the formal and expressive trajectory of this sprawling movement as it alternates between headlong mayhem and vainglorious chorales, via the rhetorical appearance of the organ, to an apotheosis which does not so much subside as fall in on itself: the orchestra departs to leave a violin musing on the close of Haydn’s ‘Farewell’ Symphony, before the massed forces return with a vengeance and the symphony hurtles to its defiant unison ending. Theatrical as much as musical certainly, but with an underlying purpose that, thanks to the guidance of Jurowski as Master of Ceremonies, was hardly in doubt.