Sara Mingardo alto
Kenneth Tarver tenor
Lorenzo Regazzo bass
London Symphony Chorus
In an evening devoted to Russian
music, Stravinsky’s Pulcinella (1919) was given a slick and highly
polished performance by Richard Hickox and the London Symphony Orchestra,
and this was the basic draw back. It was too well mannered.
Stravinsky’s commedia del ‘arte ballet, scored for
33 chamber players and three vocal soloists, is a witty pastiche of
a selection of Pergolesi’s melodies. While the conductor seemed to get
the pace of the music spot on there was something perversely dull and
opaque about his interpretation (or lack of it). For instance, the potentially
conversational exchanges between string quartet and the full LSO strings
went for nothing.
The knockabout comedy openly invades the music in the
form of a slapstick duet between trombone and double bass. Yet under
Hickox, the solo trombone and double bass (with ‘cello accompaniment)
was missing the grotesque humour it ideally needed: the trombone here
should sound raucous and rasping, whilst the double bass should be gritty
and jagged. Otto Klemperer’s droll ‘live’ 1957 Bavarian Radio account
of the Pulcinella Suite is deliberately ‘vulgar’ – the grotesque
glissandi are absolutely right, the perfectly blown raspberry reminding
us that commedia del ‘arte is essentially about red noses and breaking
wind. The LSO trombonist must not be afraid to fart when the occasion
Hickox’ failure to acknowledge the jagged rhythms that
this score calls for led to a performance which was far too formal.
A failure to appreciate that this suite is not decorous drawing room
comedy, like Walton’s ‘Façade’, meant the woodwind came
across as flat, lacking any real sense of character. There was not enough
contrast and delineation between the string sections, either, with the
‘cellos and double basses forgoing the requisite level of attack required.
In contrast, the three soloists acquitted themselves well, injecting
just the right degree of humour into the proceedings. Even if the conductor
did not really understand this piece, the soloists certainly did.
Prokofiev’s Alexander Nevsky (1939) is an edited
version of his full-length film score for Eisenstien’s film, broken
down into a seven-movement cantata. The work was given a crude run-through
in an excessively noisy performance, missing dynamic contrast and tension.
The opening ‘Russia under the Mongolian Yoke’ was bland with the LSO
playing too loudly and harshly and with little sense of pathos or tragedy.
The famous ‘Jaws’ like motif in ‘Battle on The Ice’
lacked the build up of sound and tension needed to make the orchestral
textures bloom convincingly. Sounding more like a riot than a battle,
with the orchestra perilously close to distortion, textures were smudged.
With Hickox failing to control his forces, important ‘cello and double
bass configurations, as well as woodwind detail, were sacrificed to
an overbearing cacophony.
‘The Field of The Dead’ was by far the most successfully
rendered section of the score. Sara Mingardo sung the Lament movingly,
with crystalline precision and intensity, accompanied by some very sensitive
string playing. Noise returned with ‘Alexander’s Entry into Pskov’,
the LSO percussion showing a wont of musicality. Only timpanist Andrew
Smith (on loan from the Philharmonia?) played with his usual precision
and intensity. If you want to hear how this music should be performed,
listen to Karel Ancerl, Vera Soukupova, and the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra
& Chorus (catalogue number: Supraphon 11 1948-2).
The LSO chorus, although singing in Russian, sounded
curiously anglicised, almost as if they were singing Belshazzar’s
Feast. With Hickox failing to martial any discipline amongst his
forces the orchestra was left to run riot in a noisy performance full
of sound and fury, but little else.