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Rachmaninov, Turnage, Tchaikovsky Gerald Finley (baritone), LPO/Vladimir Jurowski, RFH, Wednesday, December 8th, 2004 (CC)

What is possibly Rachmaninov’s darkest score set the scene for a programme of intense emotion; by his own admission, Mark-Anthony Turnage is attracted to the ominous side of life, and his magnificent settings of Dylan Thomas poetry proved an easy partner for Tchaikovsky’s under-appreciated ‘Manfred’ symphony.

A batonless Jurowski seemed to be moulding the irregular five-rhythms of the Isle of the Dead out of some sort of clay, inspiring the LPO to play with a sense of the massive that is the key to this score. Rachmaninov’s contrasts were given full meaning in the course of an overarching, tremendous sense of unstoppable momentum. This is one of this composer’s most tightly structured scores, and here it sounded one of his best.

Astonishingly, Mark-Anthony Turnage’s When I Woke was receiving its World Premiere, despite having been produced in 2001 for the Credit Suisse International Concert Series (Turnage was a bit evasive as to exactly why in the pre-concert talk). Whatever the case it was a privilege to be present on this occasion, especially when the soloist came in the shape of Gerald Finley. Turnage praised Finley’s ‘rich, resonant’ voice in the pre-concert event, and so it proved. No less impressive was the way the Thomas texts obviously resonated with Turnage and inspired him to a work of no mean import.

The reproduction of these texts in the programme helped, particularly in the case of the first, 'The Turn of Time', with its diamond-text shape that Turnage works initially with and later irons out somewhat. Finley was left alone to vocalise most of the text of this song (amazingly focussed and confident,) until the small orchestra injects whooping horn figures.

The second movement, a setting of ‘When I woke’ begins with seemingly improvised and (in this performance) well-projected humming from the soloist, under-laid by a quiet, subtly scored orchestral tapestry. There is an easy compositional fluency to this that is appealing on a very immediate level, especially when every word carried so well (‘The erected’ for example, the two words nice and distinct).

For darkness, the opening of the third song, 'Lie Still, Sleep Becalmed' takes some beating. The sheer hypnotic, desolate delicacy of the scoring (voice accompanied by pairs of violas then ‘cellos) and a predominance of hyper-delicate greys on orchestral colourings made for a vast sense of desolation. Lines here, as elsewhere, were supremely singable, whatever the angularity. A mere fifteen minutes in total duration, When I Woke is major Turnage.

Tchaikovsky’s Manfred sits in orbit to the approved canon of six, circling them seemingly forever without ever being let in. In a committed performance, and this was certainly that – one just sits there and wonders at this neglect. Jurowski’s clear but expressive beat and gestures coaxed playing from the LPO that was little short of magnificent. A sea of strings gave its all to Tchaikovsky’s Byron-inspired outpourings; in addition, Tchaikovsky’s moments of supplication carried real emotional impact.

The difficult Scherzo acted as a reminder of the LPO’s virtuosity, with gossamer wind. The Trio did not hang about, but Jurowski managed to contrive an impressively shaped climax. Similarly he made the most of the ‘Manfred-theme’ interruption in the slow movement. Most impressive of all perhaps was the final resumption of bucolic activity towards the end of the third movement that appeared as a veritable ray of light.

Gritty strings, an uncanny ability to make lines speak through dense textures plus a positively infernal fugue made the finale seem more together than it sometimes can seem, the blazing organ topping off the grand ending.

A superb concert that made me want to attend the Sunday concert (12th), which includes more Turnage (Evening Songs).



Colin Clarke

Further Listening:

Rachmaninov: The Isle of the Dead Pletnev/Russian NO DG 463 075-2
Tchaikovsky: Markevitch EMI/IMG Artists 575124-2



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