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PROM 64 - Ibert, Debussy, Mozart, Bernd Alois Zimmermann and Brahms: Pierre-Laurent Aimard - Tamara Stefanovich (piano), London Philharmonic Orchestra, Vladimir Jurowski, Royal Albert Hall, London, 3.9.2009 (BBr)

Ibert: Bacchanale (1956)

Debussy: Jeux (1912/1913)

Mozart: Sonata in D major for two pianos, K448 (1781)

Bernd Alois Zimmermann: Dialoge (1960 rev 1965)

Brahms: Symphony No.1 in C minor, op.68 (1855/1876)

Jacques Ibert wrote his Bacchanale to a BBC commission to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Third Programme (which, after the Pirate radio stations had been closed down, became what we now know as Radio 3 in part of the re–shaping of the BBC networks). It’s a riot of orchestral colour and technique, and it’s great fun, the pyrotechnics hardly ever relaxing. A bacchanal is a drunken orgy and when you’ve got something big to celebrate a glass or two at the office party usually goes down well. This sparkling piece, given an appropriately riotous performance, wasn’t what was needed to get the audience into the mood for some serious music, but it was very fabulously enjoyable!

Jurowski conducted Debussy’s Jeux in the Festival Hall last November and it wasn’t a success. Tonight, however, he seemed to have re–thought his interpretation and he delivered a fine show, understanding where the music was going – this lack of direction was missing last time – and making the music quite dynamic. It seemed to me that much time had been put into this performance. The orchestra was on top form.

After the first interval Pierre–Laurent Aimard and Tamara Stefanovich came on stage to play Mozart’s only Sonata for two pianos. It was a well thought out performance but, from where I was sitting, they sounded as if they were playing in an empty swimming pool, so tinny and distant was the sound. When the orchestra joined them for Zimmermann’s Dialoge things were very different, not least because the ensemble included the pianos and it wasn’t a work where soloist was in mortal battle with the orchestra. The seating was radical, instrumentalists mixed together and there was a huge percussion section, used with aplomb. In seven short sections, Zimmermann runs the gamut of expression from existential loneliness to outright catastrophe. It’s a big piece, in thought, but not in playing time. The work includes allusions to Jeux, Mozart’s C major Concerto K467 and the plainsong Veni, creator spiritus (but you’d be hard pressed to know this without being told). It is phantasmagoric, as is much Zimmermann, and the audience was, in general, held in thrall of his fascinating imaginative landscape. This was a very fine performance and obviously much time had been given in preparation – it must have been a nightmare to rehearse. But it was worth it, to have such a clear exposition of a very difficult work.

Bringing us back to earth with a bump, after the second interval, Brahms’s 1stSymphony was given a magnificent performance and my only real quibble was that the opening slow introduction, marked Un poco sostenuto, was far too fast to allow for any sostenuto and there was insufficient contrast between introduction and allegro proper – happily, Jurowski repeated the exposition. The playing was electrifying and this was a fittingly triumphant ending to a stimulating, if rather long, show.

Bob Briggs

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