Haitink’s second cancellation brought in its wake a
double-whammy of conducting absenteeism: the ‘first replacement conductor’,
Mark Elder, was himself indisposed, leaving Lothar Zagrosek to
take over the helmsman’s role at the last moment. As if that was not
enough, Petra Lang, who has impressed so much in the past (see my review
of a Haitink
concert which happened, a memorable Wesendonk-Lieder on April
12th, 2000) also cancelled. The American soprano Jane Henschel
stood in, taking the part of Jocasta in Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex.
It is remarkable, then, that this concert should have
in the event been so memorable. Zagrosek’s account of the Mozart’s Prague
Symphony was notable on several levels and was significantly more convincing
that Sir Colin Davis’ recent LSO performance (part of his collaboration
with Anne-Sophie Mutter at the Barbican
last December). Zagrosek’s opening was dramatic, the Allegro big-boned
but not inappropriately so. The second movement was taken at a true
Andante. Zagrosek chose a tempo which was absolutely on the line between
six beats in a bar and two beats in a bar, and his conducting reflected
this (i.e. when he conducted six, it looked too fast; when in two, it
looked too slow). With eyes closed, however, the music flowed beautifully
and inevitably. Only the not-quite-precise ensemble of the LPO strings
meant that the bustling finale, Figaro-like in intent, did not
quite achieve Zagrosek’s interpretative aims.
Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex is a true masterpiece:
why it is not more frequently performed remains a mystery. Zagrosek
directed a full-blooded performance. It was a great pleasure to see
and hear the actor Timothy West as the work’s narrator. Wisely choosing
to step away from any evocation of the inimitable Jean Cocteau, West
fulfilled his function of describing the action (in the vernacular)
clearly and commendably.
Throughout the performance, it was Zagrosek’s lucid
command of Stravinsky’s score that made this Oedipus such an
impressive achievement. His clarity and pacing throughout were of the
highest integrity. The American tenor Stuart Neill took the title role,
impressive in the cruelly taxing florid lines and displaying remarkable
agility. However, despite the excellence of West and Neill, it was the
chorus, Terry Edwards’ ‘London Voices’ which stole the show. They brought
a monumental quality to the opening chorus’ gravity. Drama was much
in evidence elsewhere and their final farewell to Oedipus was most touching.
Of the other soloists, Jane Henschel’s portrayal of Jocasta was powerful
and commendable. Gilles Cachemaille seemed the weak link, lacking
in voltage and, occasionally, volume (he was easily overpowered by the
LPO). Franz-Josef Selig’s Tiresias suffered from blandness.
Overall, though, the concert functioned primarily as
a timely reminder of the stature of Stravinsky’s genius as manifested
in Oedipus Rex.