The Year 1812 – Festival Overture, Op.49
Symphony No.7 in C, Op.60 (Leningrad)
Lawrence Power (viola)
London Philharmonic Orchestra & Russian National Orchestra
Reviewed by: Kevin Rogers
Reviewed: 5 October, 2012
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall
The final concert in the Vladimir Jurowski-curated series entitled “War & Peace”, given as part of Shell Classic International, combined musicians from the Russian National and London Philharmonic Orchestras (the respective ensembles had played in their own “War & Peace” concerts earlier this week; review-links below). There was certainly both states present: Tchaikovsky’s ‘festival overture’ has both conflict and concord, Britten’s mournful Lachrymae (subtitled ‘Reflections on a Song of Dowland’) finds a peace of sorts, whilst Shostakovich’s ‘Leningrad’ Symphony was composed in the most horrific of circumstances: not just the siege of Leningrad by the Nazis, but also under the fist of Soviet oppression.
1812 Overture is a rare visitor to concerts these days, which is a shame as it is full of colour and a great showcase for any orchestra. Richly scored, the work presents war romantically (whereas Shostakovich would express the brutality of it). Jurowski never scaled the piece’s heights or inhabited its broad areas of calm: the opening Slavic Orthodox ‘Troparion of the Holy Cross’ was rushed, and later the playing never galvanised to victory or defiance. Real canon for the sixteen shots written into the score are a logistical nightmare, but the use of an electronic keyboard provided a limp substitute – why not employ a ‘Verdi Drum’ (as used in his Messa da Requiem), or at least a standard bass drum?
Benjamin Britten, a superb violist, wrote Lachrymae in 1950 for William Primrose, and returned to it shortly before his death in 1976 when arranging it for viola and strings for Cecil Aronowitz. Lawrence Power probed Britten’s exploration of the viola’s soul judiciously and Jurowski’s concern with minutiae paid dividends; this most-beautiful music sang. The closing calm, though, was spoilt by the rumble of trains passing nearby Waterloo Bridge, the sound of which seems to be a worsening problem for this Hall.
Shostakovich’s ‘Leningrad’ Symphony sprawls enough for some of its 75-or-so minutes to be utterly tedious. The micro-managing that worked so well in the Britten was the undoing of Shostakovich: although no particular message was brought out, and there is nothing inherently wrong about that, the whole felt transient. Sure, the quality of playing was fine, but throughout the course of the opening movement everything was too calculated: the long, drawn-out ‘invasion theme’ needed to be let go to really terrify; and, similarly, the finale’s forced victory was too overtly triumphant – and made the ending seem shallower than it is. The inner movements fared better, and benefited from superb individual contributions: one heard the better places that the music seeks to convey, and they transported the listener to this hoped-for better future; a lovely image.