Classical review: Philharmonia/Salonen - Esa-Pekka makes his case for Lutoslawski the Great

Royal Festival Hall, London

Two cellos in crepuscular counterpoint, a creeping melody of tritones and semitones, a lament of baleful intensity from a string orchestra divided into 10 parts. Woven Words, Esa-Pekka Salonen's series of concerts with the Philharmonia to mark the centenary of the birth of Witold Lutoslawski, opened with a work written in memory of another laureate of shadows and sorrows, Béla Bartók. Commissioned for the 10th anniversary of Bartók's death but only completed in 1958, Lutoslawski's Musique funèbre is a work of extraordinary refinement, intimate and immense, its sepulchral pulse strong and slow through an arc of fragmented dances, flecked spiccato, dusty pizzicato, gauzy tremolandi and fevered trills.

Born to a history of invasion and occupation, Cold War and curfews, Lutoslawski was a sane man in an insane world. If Woven Words cannot make the case for his inclusion among the very greatest composers of the chimerical, polystylistic sprawl of the last half of the 20th century, then nothing can. Along with the nocturnal shiverings of Bartók, we have glints of Ligeti's astral imaginings, the attenuated keening of Shostakovich's late quartets, the lush chromatics of Szymanowski, and a dry but generous wit. Written in 1988 for Krystian Zimerman, who performs it here, the Piano Concerto is a work that plays with the listener's expectations, that opens with woodwind figures that flutter and flirt like Art Nouveau dryads then sharpen into clownism. The contours and conventions are those of a 19th-century concerto, but spiked with slapstick triplets and self-mocking asterisks.

This is a beauty that confounds with contrasts, sparkling and balletic under Zimerman's fingers. Salonen's impeccable sense of pace and balance continued in Ravel's Daphnis et Chloé, its glittering artificiality echoed in the uniform hand and arm movements of the Philharmonia Voices. Never has the Royal Festival Hall sounded so radiant, so theatrical.

Every note in the Philharmonia's performance had a definite ending. The relationship between the last nanosecond of sound and the silence that follows it is of crucial importance in communicating a musical idea, and on the previous night, as Sir Simon Rattle conducted the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment (Royal Festival Hall, London), the measured silences in Mozart's Symphony No 39 had something of the same quality. This is music many of us know too well to hear properly, yet nothing was taken for granted. Contrasts were sharply defined in the opening Adagio, the upper strings a mist of greys over the purposeful tread of the bassoons. The Allegro sprang into life with the report of the kettledrum, the melody warmed by the second violins. The forces were small, the ideas big, with a Beethovian sense of spaciousness and suspense. Rattle's subtle adjustments of tempi in the Andante, the rhetorical weighting of the repeated chords, the perfumier's blend of flute, clarinets and bassoons, the whirling physicality of the Menuetto and the vigour of the Finale thrilled.

Sadly, energy flagged in the harmonic ambiguities of Symphony No 40. The first movement was a fraction too slow to conform to the period instruments norm, a fraction too fast to match the grandeur achieved in No 39. Intelligent work from the violas and oboes compensated for untidiness elsewhere.

There are always moments to treasure in this orchestra's work, the cheerful interplay of two clarinets, the edginess of the natural brass, the earthy grunt of the double-basses. But even feminine endings need careful punctuation, especially in the animated colloquy of fugal writing with its commas, semi-colons and full-stops. The OAE's default phrasing is binary, ending either in exclamation marks or ellipses. Though the textures of Symphony No 41 were alluring, orchestra and conductor had peaked too early to complete their argument persuasively. There is no closure in the last movement of Mozart's last symphony, no sense of finality, just another point in a journey that an 18-year-old named Ludwig van Beethoven would continue in the next century.

'Woven Words' (0844 875 0073) continues till 6 Feb

Critic’s choice

Daniel Harding directs the LSO in two programmes of music by Sibelius, Beethoven and Mark-Anthony Turnage at London’s Barbican Hall, including Turnage’s trumpet concerto with Håkan Hardenberger (Tue) and the world premiere of Speranza (Thu). David Pountney’s production of Berg’s tart-without-a-heart opera, Lulu, opens at the Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff (Fri), heralding a bold new chapter in Welsh National Opera’s history

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West is on his 'Yeezus' tour at the moment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence star in new film 'Serena'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Some might argue that a fleeting moment in the actor’s scintillating, silver-tongued company is worth every penny.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth stars as master magician Stanley Crawford in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

film
Arts and Entertainment
U2 have released Songs of Innocence in partnership with Apple

musicBand have offered new record for free on iTunes
Arts and Entertainment
Brad Pitt stars in David Ayer's World War II drama Fury

film
Arts and Entertainment
Top hat: Pharrell Williams

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum star as undercover cops in 22 Jump Street

film
Arts and Entertainment
David Bowie is back with fresh music after last year's hit album The Next Day

music
Arts and Entertainment
Keith Richards is publishing 'Gus and Me: The Story of My Granddad and My First Guitar', a children's book about his introduction to music

music
Arts and Entertainment
Calvin Harris has generated £4m in royalties from the music platform

music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week