For a long time it was too easy to pigeonhole John
Eliot Gardiner as an early-music specialist. A glance at his discography
shows how wide-ranging his musical tastes are: recently, for example,
he has recorded Elgar with the Vienna Philharmonic, and a disc of Lili
Boulanger and Stravinsky for Deutsche Grammophon. Here he presented
a concert of three well-contrasted twentieth-century masterpieces.
There was a distinct maritime flavour to the first
half (could I really taste the sea in the air around Moorgate
on the way in?): Britten’s well-loved Four Sea Interludes from
Peter Grimes (1944) came shoulder-to-shoulder with Debussy’s
seascape, La mer (1903-5). Clearly, Gardiner and the LSO were
united in their aims in the cruelly exposed lines of the first Sea
Interlude, ‘Dawn,’ which were miraculously together (more than could
be said for the brass chords, however). The ‘bells’ of ‘Sunday Morning’
pealed as background to the incisive rhythms of the woodwind; the sea
at night (‘Moonlight’) was aural peace and tranquillity, true balm to
the ears; and the brass moved in shifting walls of sound as the final,
wild ‘Storm’ broke loose.
The first movement of La mer, De l’aube à
midi sur la mer, had lines so clear that this was almost a deconstructionist
performance (although not to the extremes that, say, Sinopoli could
go on occasion). Atmosphere, so necessary to this music, was present
in abundance, however. The LSO proved their status as London’s virtuoso
orchestra in the Jeux de vagues. The gestures of the final movement
were played for all they were worth, to close a performance which was,
rightly, well received by the audience.
One of Prokofiev’s most popular symphonies, the Fifth
is nevertheless a tricky work, interpretatively. The Andante first movement
requires complete grasp by the conductor, and Gardiner provided a gripping
account. The music unfolded naturally, the conductor highlighting the
underlying, flowing Romanticism of the score. The climax was impressive.
Prokofiev’s balletic leanings came to the fore in the
Allegro marcato, contrasting well with the processional element of part
of the third movement (plenty of lovely, lush sonorities here). The
finale brought this powerful performance to an impressive end.
Time and time again, Gardiner provided insights into
these frequently performed masterpieces. A very rewarding experience.