Vladimir Jurowski Rescues Eine Herbstsymphonie from Unjustified Neglect

01/12/2017

Chausson, Respighi and Marx: Julia Fischer (violin), London Philharmonic Orchestra / Vladimir Jurowski (conductor), Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre, London, 29.11.2017. (AS)

ChaussonPoème, Op.25

RespighiPoema autunnale, Op.146

Marx – Eine Herbstsymphonie

Vladimir Jurowski’s enquiring mind and breadth of musical interests have led to some fascinatingly out of the ordinary LPO programmes, and it is a great pity that his enterprise on this occasion resulted in a poorly attended concert. However, microphones were in evidence, and one hopes that the performances will be issued on record or eventually broadcast, so that some income might be generated to help compensate for lack of ticket sales.

Joseph Marx’s An Autumn Symphony was completed in 1921 and first performed the following year by the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra under Felix Weingartner. But after one or two more outings the work was not heard anywhere between 1925 and 2005. This was its first UK performance.

Although it has received at least one commercial recording it would be particularly good to have Jurowski’s reading made generally more available in some form. This kind of large-scale late-romantic repertoire suits him perfectly; and his confident, clearly detailed direction showed that he had acquired an intimate knowledge of the score. As it always does for him, the LPO played the complex music with great skill and vitality.

The programme titling’s suggestion that the work had a playing length of 75 minutes, and the note’s information that it was in ‘four rhapsodic movements, each one longer than the last’, suggested that listeners might be in for an endurance test, but the length was in fact about an hour, and the content was sufficiently interesting and varied to prevent boredom. Marx uses a very large orchestra, with a cohort of tuned and untuned percussion instruments and plenty of wind and brass. Stylistically it is difficult to define. Although the programme note rather dismissed the notion, there is certainly the influence of Scriabin, but mixed with other ‘spot the composer’ elements – a bit of Richard Strauss here or early Schoenberg somewhere else, a hint of Frank Bridge occasionally, and even a nod sometimes in the direction of Eric Coates. But strangely there seems no reflection of the work of Debussy or Ravel, both of whom Marx greatly admired.

If this all sounds like something of a hotchpotch, Marx in fact manages his invention with no little skill. The orchestral colours are vivid, there is rhythmic variety and effective contrasts throughout all four movements. The Autumn Symphony is certainly not a masterpiece, but on first hearing it does make an impact, and doesn’t deserve the almost complete neglect it has received during the last 90 or so years.

Respighi’s Autumn Poem is also a concert hall rarity, though Julia Fischer’s recording of the piece (review) and her general championship of it have helped bring it more to the fore. The scoring is for a moderately-sized orchestra, but as always with this composer it is most expertly and attractively devised, and as a former violinist Respighi knew how to lay out appealingly effective lines for the soloist. There is variety of mood in this 13-minute piece, too, a ‘sweet melancholy’ (according to the composer) disturbed by a ‘joyful vintner’s song’ and a ‘Dionysian dance’ before calm returns at its end. Julia Fischer produced some attractive solo playing to reflect the no doubt personally rewarding nature of her solo part.

In Chausson’s Poème, which began the concert, attention was drawn to the superbly precise, detailed and expressive playing of the LPO under Jurowski rather than that of the soloist. Julia Fischer’s performance was not quite within the work’s playing tradition, for instead of the usual intense, but dreamingly contemplative approach, hers was a little more muscular and unsentimental, even a little bit dry of delivery sometimes. It was a strange work to begin a concert, and maybe that didn’t help.

Alan Sanders

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