The LPO with Liszt, Dvořák and Tchaikovsky

Liszt, Dvořák, Tchaikovsky: Alban Gerhardt (cello); London Philharmonic Orchestra,  Vladimir Jurowski. 16.4.2011 (CC)

Liszt Two Episodes from Lenau’s Faust: Nocturnal Procession. Mephisto Waltz No. 1.

Dvořák Cello Concerto in B minor

Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 2 in C minor

A fascinatingly programmed concert, where the rare (the first Liszt Episode) rubbed shoulders with the quite rare (Tchaikovsky “Little Russian”), the familiar in new garb (“First Mephisto Waltz”) and the plain and straightforward familiar ( Dvořák). Except that the Dvořák emerged not quite as familiar as one might have imagined.

First the two Liszt pieces, two “episodes” inspired by the alternative version of the Faust legend – by Nikolas Lenau (1802-50), not Goethe. The “Nocturnal Procession” was beautifully evocative. Wonderfully balanced woodwind , superbly together exposed first violins and some off-stagery (bells and cor anglais) all helped the atmospherics. But that was what came across – atmosphere over substance. The orchestral version of the First Mephisto Waltz was fascinating, and faster than almost all pianists would dare. One revelled in the invention of List’s scoring, especially in the evocation of a fluttering, twilit world. Jurowski ensured a sure sense of narrative throughout this diabolical waltz. Links to the Faust Symphony (the “Gretchen” movement) in themore lyrical passages were particularly strong.

Thought-provoking in a different way was the account of the Dvořák Cello Concerto, fronted by the young Alban Gerhardt. The rapid pace of the first movement’s orchestral exposition had me checking the composer’s marking. It is Allegro, with no caveats, no “ma non troppo”. There was little, if any, give for the second subject horn solo (well played by Stephen Stirling – a name I haven’t seen for years. I remember him as a member of the Hallé Orchestra in the 1980’s). Gerhardt was a strong yet nimble soloist who took us all for a virtuoso, hell-for-leather ride. He can do the big statement, too (although he is not as generous in this respect as Rostropovich was). Gerhardt’s tone sang well in the central movement (not too brisk, it became the focus of the piece), where a trio of horns was particularly memorable. The ending was beautifully crepuscular. Control was all here; the finale gave a palpable sense of relief. High spirits abounded in an overall spirit of jubilation. Neither soloist nor conductor were willing to let any sense of elasticity seep through though.

Tchaikovsky’s Second Symphony (“Little Russian”) needs more live performances. Period. It is a magnificent work, passionate and full-blooded. Jurowski’s reading was virile in the extreme. The first movement allegro had real bite, crowned by resplendent brass. Unfortunately, the second march movement sounded rather tentative (short rehearsal time?); better was the expertly managed Trio of the Scherzo. The finale once more suffered from a reluctance to let the music breathe. The music blazed, certainly, and there were moments of great lightness. But this is an interpretation that needs to mature.

Colin Clarke