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S & H Concert Review

Anderson, Mozart, Prokofiev Maria João Pires (piano), Marianna Tarasova (mezzo); LPC, LPO/Vladimir Jurowski, RFH, June 12th, 2003 (CC)


The composers Julian Anderson, Mozart and Prokofiev in this concert were less contrasting elements, more juxtaposed ones. It was a curious mix of a programme that kind of worked, although this was possibly because Prokofiev’s Alexander Nevsky can have the effect of blanking out whatever precedes it.

It was good to hear Julian Anderson introducing Khorovod in a pre-concert talk that also included a sweet performance of Scherzo with trains by members of the clarinet section of the LPYO. Anderson is an eloquent speaker who exudes a certain down-to-earth element about his personality (I like his description of the final section of Khorovod as ‘chill-out’ music).

Khorovod enjoyed a long gestation (1989-94). Scored for fifteen players, it is, by Anderson’s own admission, a piece wherein he defines himself as a composer. Certainly there is almost a surfeit of imaginative goings-on. Anderson’s use of a note as an ‘axis’ around which the music can rotate is pleasingly aurally obvious. Stravinskian influences are rife (of course, the very title refers to the ‘Round Dance’ in Firebird): the ghost of Soldier’s Tale is there; the well-defined rhythms surely emanate from this source; even the final gesture with its chime refers clearly to Les noces. But it is all of a piece, and all of Anderson’s, one of his most impressive statements and one which emerged fully formed and convincing in the young conductor Vladimir Jurowski’s hands.

The sculpted, highly personal musicianship of Maria Pires in Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20 formed an excellent contrast. In its inherent seriousness of intent, the D minor concerto possibly made a happier partner to the Anderson than Beethoven’s Second Concerto, the originally programmed choice, would have. Pires possesses a touch which can be light as a feather (and yet simultaneously project to every corner of the RFH) and plays with almost unparalleled poetry (only Uchida’s Schubert really comes close). She truly shone in the first movement cadenza. In fact, it was the first movement that impressed most: the Romanze was on the brisk side, while the finale was slightly under-voltage.

Prokofiev’s mighty cantata, Alexander Nevsky, was given an impressive reading. The high-point came with Marianna Tarasova’s dignified account of Field of the Dead, her creamy mezzo evoking all the moving desolation the music requires. Jurowski was alive to the gestural nature of Prokofiev’s writing (the Battle on the Ice showed this aspect of the performance at its best). The major problem came with the London Philharmonic Choir. This was a case of English politeness ruling over Russian red-bloodedness (when they sang, ‘We scythed down the Swedish invaders like grass on parched soil’ you would never believe that was what the words meant).

A concert with impressive moments, but one which left the present writer with a slightly uncomfortable, unfulfilled sensation.

Colin Clarke



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