LPO / Jurowski, Royal Festival Hall, London

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The Independent Culture

It's a paradox, but Vladimir Jurowski made Rachmaninov's The Isle of the Dead a place of irresistible allure. As ferryman of this compact masterpiece, he fought the Festival Hall acoustic and won. It was almost as if he created his own acoustic.

It's a paradox, but Vladimir Jurowski made Rachmaninov's The Isle of the Dead a place of irresistible allure. As ferryman of this compact masterpiece, he fought the Festival Hall acoustic and won. It was almost as if he created his own acoustic.

Such was the depth and penetration of the string bass-led undulations in the opening bars that we began to experience an imagined resonance, the ear compensating for what it couldn't hear. That's Jurowski's skill; his performances are so intensely well-heard, so concentrated, that they demand your involvement. There is no such thing as passive listening.

Midway through Rachmaninov's symphonic poem, a melody high in the first violins clears the texture, lightens the senses, illuminates the way ahead. Jurowski made it a truly transforming moment, as though mindful of the paradise concealed beyond the rocky inclines and tall conifers of the Arnold Bocklin painting that inspired the composer. The ensuing climaxes were almost lustful in response.

And death was only another boat-ride away in the belated world premiere of Mark-Anthony Turnage's When I Spoke - three discreet settings of poems by Dylan Thomas. The baritone Gerald Finley is a voice alone in the first stanza of "Vision and Prayer", the potency of the words and strange elliptical beauty of the vocal line needing no adornment. Only when we reach the penultimate line, "To the burn and turn of time/ And the heart print of man/ Bows no baptism" does Turnage's modest chamber orchestra feel compelled to endorse the soloist. That's the skill of these settings - they are responsive to, but never compete with, Thomas's imagery.

In the second poem, where the poet is awakened by the sounds of a new day, Turnage has the voice come to with drowsy humming, arresting yet reassuring. Those same phrases induce sleep at the close of the poem with the words, "And the coins on my eyelids sang like shells". How else do you follow an image that strong, but without words? Then two violas and two cellos suggest the poet reclining on open sea - "Lie Still, Sleep Becalmed" - while muted trumpets and pizzicato bass syncopations offer the merest hint of a Turnage "blues".

Tchaikovsky's Manfred Symphony contains sounds unlike anything else in his work; the stark, craggy, bassoon-led wind choruses of the first movement, for instance, where consolation is found in the unlikely voice of the bass clarinet.

Jurowski dug deep with these dark colorations, his strings weighing in heavily with the hero's main theme, his horns - bells raised - braying it defiantly in the coda. The whole reading had a distinctly Russian sensibility, in phrasing and articulation, too. The finale's bacchanal had everyone's blood pumping. It's all in the rhythm; never underestimate it.

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