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Seen and Heard Concert Review


Mozart, Stravinsky, Pärt: Katie Van Kooten (soprano) Liora Grodnikaite (mezzo-soprano), Andrew Kennedy (tenor), Darren Jeffery (bass); Boris Garlitsky (violin), Pieter 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.

Arvo Pärt’s Tabula Rasa: Concerto for 2 violins, prepared piano & string orchestra is 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 all.

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 rehearsal.

Jurowski’s newly-minted 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.



Alex Russell




Further listening:

Mozart: Masonic Funeral Music in C minor; Symphonies 33, 34, 40; New Philharmonia Orchestra, Otto Klemperer (conductor): EMI Angel Records: C67332.

: 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.

: Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten, for string orchestra & bell; Stuttgart State Orchestram, Dennis Russell Davies (conductor): Polygram: ECM 817764.

: Requiem 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.






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