LPO/Jurowski, Royal Festival Hall, London
Writer and broadcaster Edward Seckerson is Chief Classical Music and Opera Critic for The Independent. He wrote and presented the long-running BBC Radio 3 series Stage & Screen, in which he interviewed many of the most prominent writers and stars of musical theatre. He appears regularly on BBC Radio 3 and 4. On television, he has commentated a number of times at the Cardiff Singer of the World competition. He has published books on Mahler and the conductor Michael Tilson Thomas, and has been on Gramophone Magazine's review panel for many years. Edward presented the 2007 series of the Radio 4 music quiz Counterpoint. He has interviewed everyone from Leonard Bernstein to Liza Minelli; from Paul McCartney to Pavarotti: from Julie Andrews to Jessye Norman.
Monday 10 March 2008
Like so many of Vladimir Jurowski's intriguing programme ideas, the pairing of Ravel's Piano Concert for the Left Hand and Shostakovich's 7th Symphony "Leningrad" amounted to much more than the musical equivalent of speed-dating. Both works were, in different ways, the products of war and heroism: the concerto inspired by the pianist Paul Wittgenstein, who rebuilt a concert career despite losing an arm in the First World War; and the symphony an ode to the people of Leningrad, whose endurance in the face of Nazi oppression had been well-practised under Stalin.
But Jurowski will undoubtedly have spotted the musical kinship between the frivolous march at the heart of the Ravel and its toe-tapping equivalent in the first movement of the Shostakovich. Both might be described as "frivolous with intent". Jurowski immediately homed in on the underlying blackness of the Ravel, his bass clarinet worming through groping string bass arpeggios.
Jean-Yves Thibaudet, both arms operational but only one in use, made something grandly defiant of his opening flourishes. His rhythmic resilience in just one hand was extraordinary, and come the long final cadenza, those leaps across the spectrum of the keyboard really did suggest 10 fingers in play. The savage sawn-off ending – with that march now goose-stepping – opened the door on the Shostakovich.
And the highest accolade one can pay to Jurowski's detailed and deeply felt reading of the symphony was that, where others may leave only an impression of tub-thumping rhetoric with this piece, Jurowski left one in no doubt of its greatness. It's true that the protracted mutation of that inane march can wear the listener down. That's the idea. A study in mindless repetition. Except it isn't. Few in my experience have chronicled the changing colour and temper of the orchestration like Jurowski, and with his extra trumpets and trombones separated antiphonally in the choir stalls, and four of the seven horns filling the texture in between, the climactic modulation was horrific indeed.
But there is music in the middle movements that is unique in Shostakovich's output, and from the spooky Mahlerian intimations of the scherzo to the ineffable, heartbreaking beauty of the chorale-led slow movement, Jurowski and his orchestra dug deep.
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