Winter Daydreams

Symphony No.49 in F minor (La Passione)
Sinfonia concertante in E flat for violin, viola and orchestra, K364
Symphony No.1 in G minor, Op.13 (Winter Daydreams)

Baiba Skride (violin) & Isabelle van Keulen (viola)

London Philharmonic Orchestra
Vladimir Jurowski

Reviewed by: Ben Hogwood

Reviewed: 1 November, 2006
Venue: Queen Elizabeth Hall, London

With a sudden nip in the London night air it seemed entirely appropriate to be attending a concert whose main work is subtitled ‘Winter Daydreams’. Tchaikovsky’s loosely programmatic symphony is rare in the concert hall, even more so than the ‘Little Russian’ (No.2), but has much to commend it in its abundance of melodic content and often lucid scoring.

Tchaikovsky subtitled the first two movements, the opening Allegro cast as ‘Reveries of a Winter Journey’, the Adagio ‘Land of Desolation, Land of Mists’. Vladimir Jurowski caught the essence of the wistful opening with the help of flute and bassoon, a mood soon dogged by the persistent figure on lower strings that chipped away at the more lyrical material.

The melancholy that characterises the slow movement was perfectly judged through a plaintive oboe solo, a fulsome cello response carefully projected by the conductor, with a wonderfully clear string section as the main theme reappeared.

The scherzo suggests a debt to Mendelssohn in its harmonic language and scoring, and the winds excelled here with their floated melodic figures. Jurowski contrasted this with the richer trio, a swinging waltz. As a result when the scherzo returned it was noticeably faster, ensemble crisp and bright.

The finale beefs up the orchestra with extra brass and percussion, and increases the contrapuntal activity considerably. In the wrong hands this can become disjointed, but Jurowski kept a close eye on the potentially loose threads, the solemn introduction giving way to exuberance as the punchy main theme took hold.

The conductor’s work with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment gave him a clear advantage in the classical first half, comprising a dramatic ‘La Passione’ symphony and a fluent Sinfonia concertante.

Baiba Skride and Isabelle van Keulen were well matched for the latter, Mozart’s masterpiece having enjoyed many good performances in his anniversary year. Here, Skride’s sweet tone contrasted well with van Keulen’s fuller sound, and if the violist was a shade dominant the performance was an extremely musical one. The two sounded as one in the stillness of the cadenza at the heart of the Andante, with the ever-attentive accompaniment of a beautifully hushed tone.

Both soloists joined the orchestra in the tutti passages, adding to the communal feel of the performance, and Jurowski, barely shrugging a shoulder or lifting a finger at times, brought subtle humour to the exchanges in the finale.

Scaled down for the first half, the London Philharmonic gave a lean account of a fine example from Haydn’s ‘Sturm und Drang’ symphonies. With a slimmed-down string section (8-6-4-3-2), the opening movement was daringly slow, expanded to over twelve minutes. This sought, and received, admirable control from horns and woodwinds while Jurowski kept the tension with minimal vibrato and focussed phrasing.

The faster music pressed forward with conviction, helped by the subtle harpsichord continuo, the antiphonal effects well secured. A forthright minuet kept an unremittingly serious tone, while the Presto finale thrust forward with good energy.

Unlikely as it seems this was the LPO’s first ever public performance of ‘La Passione’, and the microphones present suggested it may have been preserved for release on its own record label.

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