Vladimir Jurowski on Variable Form with the LPO

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Shostakovich: Patricia Kopatchinskaja (violin), London Philharmonic Orchestra, Vladimir Jurowski (conductor). Royal Festival Hall, London, 17.5.2013 (CC)

Prokofiev: Violin Concerto No. 2 in G minor, Op. 63
Shostakovich: Symphony No. 6 in B minor, Op. 54

The latest concert in the Festival, The Rest is Noise was decidedly mixed. Jurowski is an exciting and intelligent conductor, and when he is on form he can attain stunning results. Not so here, unfortunately, although the concert did have its strengths.

The strongest element, in fact, was the very first. Stravinsky’s characterful card game in three deals is a terrific romp and fully deserves more outings in the concert hall. The mock-grand opening was perfectly aimed, the whole nicely objective overall but not without some characterful woodwind contributions. The central March found the brass in fine fettle, while fun was to be had in the Rossini passages. Other composers quoted in this work are Messager, Richard Strauss, Beethoven, Ravel, Tchaikovsky and Delibes. Such a magpie approach clearly fitted perfectly to Stravinsky’s persona. Jurowski found humour here, too – something which is actually quite telling when one considers the performance of Shostakovich Sixth that came later.

The Moldovan violinist, Patricia Kopatchinskaja (or “PatKop” as she clearly likes to be known – at least, she calls herself that on her website) is a fine young player. She plays on an 1834 Giovanni Francesco Pressenda instrument. Perhaps surprisingly, she used music for this account of Prokofiev’s Second Violin Concerto. There was much to admire in this performance, especially the clear rapport between Kopatchinskaja and Jurowski. Her playing was on the intimate side, which led me to suspect she had misjudged the projection required on several occasions as she tended to the over-quiet. Yet without doubt she was attuned to Prokofiev’s world. Her spiky staccato and her blanched purity of line high up in the central movement – a flowing Andante assai – all pointed to a major artist. Her foot-stomp that opened the finale seemed to point towards a folksy, peasant earthiness that was actually only hinted at in the performance itself. This is clearly an interpretation in progress, albeit in the later stages.

After an hour-long first half, the second part was remarkably short: “half” really does not seem the right term here. Shostakovich’s half-hour-long Sixth Symphony presents a huge first movement that is easily as long as the remaining two combined. Using antiphonal violins, and ten double-basses for heft, Jurowski crafted and moulded what was clearly a carefully considered reading, an aspect particularly noticeable in the clear textures at high dynamic levels of the central Allegro. Yet the sheer speed of his first movement – it is marked Largo, but one might more easily posit an Andante con moto in this instance – robbed the piece of intensity. The orchestra played with preternatural control, not least the high-register violins and a wonderfully desolate flute solo. But the long aching melodies seemed robbed of their essential pain and anguish in an almost deconstructed way. The LPO was very much on its toes for the Presto finale – a headlong rush with plenty for the four percussionists to do. Fun only really played a part at the very end, though. Some of the humour from the Stravinsky we had heard earlier would have been welcome – this felt like too little, too late.

Colin Clarke