Stravinsky, Pärt: Katie Van Kooten (soprano) Liora
Grodnikaite (mezzo-soprano), Andrew Kennedy (tenor),
Darren Jeffery (bass); Boris Garlitsky (violin),
Schoeman (violin), London Philharmonic Orchestra
& Choir, Vladimir Jurowski (conductor), Queen Elizabeth
Hall, 10.12.2005 (AR)
The London Philharmonic
Orchestra’s imaginatively balanced programme turned
out to be a bit of curate’s egg: very good in parts:
when it was good it was very, very good – but when it
was bad it was horrid. The concert was being recorded
for the ‘LPO Live’ CD label.
The Mozart Masonic Funeral
Music in C minor was given a routine, run through
performance with conductor and orchestra having no real
rapport with the melancholic mood of the music. It lacked
drama and dynamic contrasts with the conductor ignoring
the all important cellos and double basses which sounded
insubstantial, lacking the weight and gravitas so essential
here. The rather lacklustre woodwind often ‘fluffed
it’ with bad intonation and as a result the work will
be re-recorded for ‘LPO Live’.
The second work of the evening
- Igor Stravinsky’s Symphonies of Wind Instruments
(vers. orig, 1920) – will also be re-recorded
as it suffered a similar fate with the woodwind
sounding sour toned and often out of tune whilst the
brass came across as rough, coarse and monochromed.
Despite the wind instrumentalists being placed right
at the back of the platform they came across as ‘in
your face’ sounding too loud and strident in the rather
dry and constricted QEH acoustic. One simply could not
hear the all important silences and spaces surrounding
the sounds – as it was the case of the Mahler massive
Seventh Symphony performed here recently.
After this very disappointing and uninspired
start the Arvo Pärt pieces were a real revelation and conducted and
played with passion and sensitivity. Pärt’s impassioned
Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten was
given an extraordinarily moving performance with violins
playing with a poignant and acidic sweet tone; whilst
the cellos and double bases had depth and darkness.
This was a mesmerising, high-intensity performance that
had the audience entranced and enthralled. Jurowski
conducted with elegant yet angular gestures totally
at one with the composer’s spiritual sound world.
Tabula Rasa: Concerto for 2 violins, prepared piano & string orchestra
in two movements with the first being called Ludus
(Play) and before I had read the title of the work the
music formed images for me of toys being thrown away
and retrieved akin to Freud’s ‘fort-da’ theory of that
lost object of desire. Here soloists Boris Garlitsky
and Pieter Schoeman ‘played’ with these ‘thrown’
and ‘retrieved’ toy sounds between each other as if
playing hide and seek between sounds and silences.
The second movement,
Silentium, deconstructs our commonsense experience
of clock-time as a continuum where the sound of time
as a ticking second becomes silenced by the severing
sounds and silences: here time simply cannot get started
and sounds simply get no where – only silences – only
nothingness – here makes sense and gives a sense of
time. Here time as ‘silenced’ is ‘out of time’ with
‘clock-time’ and undoes itself by imploding upon itself
never beginning and never ending giving us the sensation
of static time all the time (being thrown out of time).
The music also gives us the sensation of being ‘about
nothing’ – about the beautiful boredom of nothingness
– of being bathed in nothingness and going nowhere.
The sublimely sensitive soloists Garlitsky and
Schoeman played with the utmost intimacy as if in a
face-to-face encounter speaking in silences and swapping
sounds and slowly drifting apart melting into nothing
ness and left with the murmurs of the cello’ followed
by measured moments of silence where the conductor actually
beats the bars of silence. This may have been the first
time many in a packed out QEH had ever heard silence
conducted so sensitively – or even heard silence at
Throughout this intense
and emotionally highly charged performance there were
percussive sounding noises seemingly coming from back
stage which sounded ‘part’ of Pärt’s score but turned out to
be skate-boarders who were using the back of the QEH
as a ramp! Strangely these skaters sounds didn’t disturb
or detract from the mesmerising music but seemed to
give it an added frisson and mystery. The skaters sounded
like distant dancers akin to Mahler’s distant bands.
Because this was such a sublime performance I feel ‘LPO
Live’ should issue this skate-board accompanied performance
– even though they had already recorded it earlier in
and majestic performance of Mozart’s Requiem in D
minor was by far the finest performance that I have
ever heard in concert and as good as any available on
CD – including Benjamin Britten’s outstanding 1971 Aldeburgh
Festival performance (see further listening below).
Jurowski’s beautifully prepared and played performance
perfectly blended orchestra with chorus without the
one swamping the other. Miraculously, Jurowski was also
able to master and negotiate the arid acoustic never
allowing the music to sound too loud yet still giving
a sense of power and weight where needed. Jurowski integrated
all the movements with a sense of thrusting urgency
making the music sound more angular, taut and darker
than is usual. Throughout, the LPO Choir sung with perfect
clarity, commitment, and passion; notably in Rex
Tremendae. Credit must go to Chorus Masters Neville
Creed and Matthew Rowe who were able to integrate a
unison and harmony with orchestra and hall.
The woodwind played the
opening Requiem Aeternam with a warm and melting
tone setting up the melancholic mood of the movement
perfectly and blended beautifully with the sweet angelic
tone of soprano Katie Van Kooten. One distinct and important
feature was the projected and punctuated playing of
brass and the use of hard sticks for the timpani giving
the music a more muscular and dramatic inflection. In
the Dies Irae the brass and timpani were incisively
played with dramatic verve.
In the Tuba Mirum
the solo trombonist stood up and played close
to the bass Darren Jeffery and each perfectly
complementing the warm rich tone of the other: a magic
moment. Liora Grodnikaite,
mezzo-soprano, and Andrew Kennedy, tenor, were
stylish, sensitive and succinct blending exceptionally
well with the other voices of the orchestra. The highlight
of the performance was the concluding Lux Aeterna
which had an eerie and uncanny dark glow about it.
Simon Carrington’s dramatic timpani strokes ended
the work on a jubilant high note. This performance is
certainly well worth listening to again when issued
on ‘LPO Live’: an inspired performance.
Mozart: Masonic Funeral Music in C minor; Symphonies 33,
34, 40; New Philharmonia Orchestra, Otto Klemperer (conductor):
EMI Angel Records: C67332.
Pärt: Tabula Rasa: Concerto for 2 violins, prepared piano
& string orchestra; Alfred Schnittke, Tatjana Gridenko,
Gidon Kremer; Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra; Saulius
Sondeckis (conductor): Polygram: ECM 817764.
Pärt: Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten, for string
orchestra & bell; Stuttgart State Orchestram, Dennis
Russell Davies (conductor): Polygram: ECM 817764.
in D minor: Alfreda Hodgson, John Shirley-Quirk,
Heather Harper, Sir Peter Pears, Benjamin Britten
(conductor): English Chamber Orchestra, Aldeburgh
Festival Chorus. Aldeburgh Festival: February 1969.
BBC Legends: BBCL 4119-2.