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Stravinsky, Tchaikovsky and Bizet/Shchedrin: Leonidas Kavakos (violin) / London Philharmonic Orchestra / Vladimir Jurowski (conductor). Queen Elizabeth Hall, London. 27.09.2006 (ED)


This concert had a peculiar programme in some respects, with a warhorse concerto placed between two ballet suites that made heavy use of thematic material appropriated from diverse sources by their composers.


Stravinsky’s Pulcinella suite draws largely upon Pergolesi for its material, in addition to a variety of other composers. The ballet was to have seen the collaboration of Stravinsky, Diaghilev and Picasso to bring the work to fruition, but much the most interesting aspect is how Stravinsky reworked his sources. Jurowski led the London Philharmonic forces through the suites sequence of numbers in a respectful yet unemotional manner, thus drawing attention cleanly to Stravinsky’s own coolness of approach. Favouring on the whole crisp and brisk rhythms Jurowski occasionally allowed a skittish sense of humour to break through (in the scherzino) but a clear sense of instrumental colouring (in the minuetto particularly) was notable.


Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto has long been a work that I thought could hold no more surprises for me, so often is it performed. How wrong could I be?  Jurowski and Kavakos seemed on a mission to breathe fresh life into the old warhorse. The tempo of the opening movement was decidedly upbeat and not at all relaxed or stodgily Romantic in the bad sense. Jurowski particularly kept the movement propelling forward, drawing contrasts of tonal body and quality where he could. Kavakos matched the intention, making the line flow, reduce in tension perhaps when asked for, yet it never ground to a halt as other interpreters can cause it to do.  One had to admire also the contrast of tone brought to his inflections of phrase: razor sharp top range countering a viola-like depth at the bottom with a mellow middle territory. The chief delight to be had though was in the fact that Kavakos explored the solo line with the utmost delicacy and that the cadenza was afforded some relative space to unwind. The middle movement brought a keen sense of interplay between Kavakos and the orchestra that usefully exploited the notion of foreground and background spaces having roles to play within music. The finale, Allegro vivacissimo, lived up to the marking, and sought in no small measure to mirror the effect of the first movement. With Kavakos and Jurowski darting the music first this way then that the originality of Tchaikovsky’s writing was heard with fresh ears.


Rodion Shchedrin was by no means as respectful to Bizet’s Carmen as Stravinsky was towards Pergolesi. In fact, depending on your point of view, Shchedrin’s outlandish addition of a whole panoply of percussion instruments to the best Spanish music ever written by a Frenchman can be nothing short of sheer poor taste. If well brought off, however, it can also prove a scintillating showcase for the percussion department of any world-class orchestra. Alas, this performance proved something of a damp squib, falling somewhere in between the two extremes.  The main factor contributing to this was not the percussion playing, but rather Jurowski’s awkward tempo choices and desire to break up the flow of Shchedrin’s colourful construction. A pity though, because even without dancers or choreography this is one work that can dance all by itself given the right handling. I once heard a superb performance in Bucharest conducted by Cristian Mandeal. It is worth noting that Mandeal is due to conduct the work with the Hallé in Manchester in March 2007. Those with a taste for Shchedrin’s antics could well find the experience an exciting one.


Evan Dickerson



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Contributors: Marc Bridle (North American Editor), Martin Anderson, Patrick Burnson, Frank Cadenhead, Colin Clarke, Paul Conway, Geoff Diggines, Sarah Dunlop, Evan Dickerson Melanie Eskenazi (London Editor) Robert J Farr, Abigail Frymann, Göran Forsling, Simon Hewitt-Jones, Bruce Hodges,Tim Hodgkinson, Martin Hoyle, Bernard Jacobson, Tristan Jakob-Hoff, Ben Killeen, Bill Kenny (Regional Editor), Ian Lace, Jean Martin, John Leeman, Neil McGowan, Bettina Mara, Robin Mitchell-Boyask, Simon Morgan, Aline Nassif, Anne Ozorio, Ian Pace, John Phillips, Jim Pritchard, John Quinn, Peter Quantrill, Alex Russell, Paul Serotsky, Harvey Steiman, Christopher Thomas, John Warnaby, Hans-Theodor Wolhfahrt, Peter Grahame Woolf (Founder & Emeritus Editor)