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PROMS 2002

PROM 36: Strauss & Dvorak, Truls Mork ('cello), Paul Silverthorn (viola), London Symphony Orchestra, Mariss Jansons, RAH, 16th August 2002 (MB)

Few conductors seem able to inspire the London Symphony Orchestra to extraordinary levels of musicianship, but Mariss Jansons is one of them. Often this orchestra can appear lazy in concert, it's collective virtuosity taken for granted, its ability to range from the sublime to the ordinary occasionally infuriating. Yet, at moments during Friday's performance of Dvorak's Ninth Symphony (being played for the 85th time at the Proms) the LSO reached levels of inspiration rarely encountered in the concert hall. The passion of the playing in the symphony's outer movements was electrifying, the players almost on the edge of their seats, the conductor lurching inwards to pull the sound from the orchestra. With knife-edge articulation the performance gathered momentum like a maelstrom. Only once before has this symphony proved so riveting when I have heard it live and that was with James Levine and the Dresden Staatskapelle.

Jansons at least took the first movement's exposition repeat (still rare, even today) and this helped give the symphony an architectural breadth sometimes lacking in other performances. Tempi were certainly swift in the outer movements, but Jansons balanced this with one of the most sheerly beautiful readings of the Largo one could wish to hear. Expressive and profound, he took it at a breathtakingly slow tempo drawing playing of hushed intensity from the strings. Woodwind were achingly lyrical, horns muscled but liquid in tone. It was a remarkable performance.

Strauss' Don Quixote may well be a masterpiece but I have always found it one of Strauss' more problematic works. Ideally the work needs a hero more characterful than Truls Mork, who did not really stamp enough of his personality on the 'cello part. Lacking both subtlety and repose he occasionally seemed less dominant than the beautifully characterised Sancho Panzo, the LSO's principal viola, Paul Silverthorn. Mork's tone was sometimes sufficiently rich enough to compel the attention but what mattered most in this performance was the artistic domination of the orchestra who were spendidly precise in matters of articulation and balance. Janson's ability to make the most dense textures transparent was uncanny.

Marc Bridle

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