Mussorgsky, arr. Rimsky-Korsakov
A Night on the Bare Mountain
Violin Concerto No.1 in A minor, Op.77
Symphony No.3 in C minor, Op.44
Julia Fischer (violin)
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: 15 August, 2010
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London
A Night on the Bare Mountain was played in Rimsky-Korsakov’s well-meaning if sanitised version, perfectly good and very enjoyable on its own terms (indeed, the work of a master). Vladimir Jurowski set a recklessly fast tempo for the opening, brought out the tribal drumming vividly, then he slung the brakes on (an emergency-stop with a vengeance), and proceeded to chop and change speeds in a totally unconvincing way. The fastidious Rimsky would surely have been irked by Jurowski’s dysfunctional conception (even Golovanov, one of the most individual conductors of the last century, might have thought twice about such fluctuations), pauses elongated to further break the flow, the London Philharmonic sticking to its Principal Conductor’s every idiosyncratic twist and turn if becoming ragged as Jurowski put his foot down even further. Come the welcome-dawn coda, Jurowski yawned it out interminably, although there was some lovely clarinet and flute solos to welcome the new day, yet the players’ phrasing was micro-managed (rubato too calculated) and one craved for a more natural input. Jurowski really should have conducted Mussorgsky’s rougher, Satanistic orchestral version in all its infernal glory to which he would have been better suited. That Jurowski can leave well alone was demonstrated by Scriabin’s fragrant Rêverie (1898), a curious miniature that may pre-ejaculate to its climax but fascinates in its look-back to Tchaikovsky, its anticipation of Rachmaninov’s The Isle of the Dead (1909), and with ‘Tristan’ also in the mix. Jurowski caught its shifting harmonies without imposition, the LPO responding sensitively.
Prokofiev’s great Third Symphony (deriving from his opera “The Fiery Angel”) should grab the listener by the throat and not let go. Jurowski and the LPO didn’t quite achieve this, the opening not terror-struck or clamorous enough, tempos (again) a little arbitrary to the whole, sometimes held-back and precipitate at others. The reptilian finale was just a little too comfortable and self-consciously articulate, its reminiscences dragging, the closing bars not quite tipping us into the abyss. The middle movements fared better, the darkly veiled yet luminous tones of violas, cellos and basses particularly haunting at the opening of the second, and the aleatoric slithering of the scherzo successfully making the bar-lines all but disappear, but the interruptive rumblings could have been more threatening. This is a nerve-wracking, blood-curdling piece, X-rated – but this performance was a for-all-the-family affair, music that is on the edge made to seem rational.
Jurowski seems to becoming more a designer than a conductor. Although accommodating of Julia Fischer’s conception of Shostakovich’s First Violin Concerto he underplayed the orchestra’s pungency and edge, although the woodwinds in the third movement ‘Passacaglia’ were exceptional (bassoons especially), Julia Fischer unrestrained in her searing emotion yet not quite tapping into what can be unbearable sadness, yet the cadenza linking into the finale was mesmerising, from whispering incantation to feverish ignition. In the fast second and fourth movements, for all her never-showy if exacting technique, Fischer didn’t seem to quite inhabit the bruising headlong rhythms (the banjo and accordion ‘moments’), containing them somewhat, albeit the acceleration into the finale’s home-stretch was exhilarating. Best of all was the opening ‘Nocturne’, Fischer’s purity of tone and directness of phrasing carrying with it a sureness of the composer’s inner belief amidst the sombre and introspective utterance that vies between despondency and ethereal hope, the LPO conjuring a rapt atmosphere – into which some rude people coughed loudly and some thoughtless ones applauded at its close.
Somewhat stealing the show was Fischer’s encore, the first movement of Ysaÿe’s Second Sonata, the violinist completely attuned to its Bach-obsessed faltering and re-grouping.