Jurowski’s Masterly Way with an Early Bruckner Symphony

United KingdomUnited Kingdom  Brahms, Bruckner: Julia Fischer (violin), Daniel Müller-Schott (cello), London Philharmonic Orchestra, Vladimir Jurowski (conductor),  Royal Festival Hall, London, 26.2.2014 (CC)

Brahms – Concerto for Violin, Cello and Orchestra in A minor, Op. 102
Bruckner – Symphony No. 2 in C minor (1872 version)

The fascinating coupling of the Brahms Double Concerto and Bruckner’s Second Symphony made for a most stimulating evening. Brahms’ late concerto (1887) is a remarkable work, shot through with compositional mastery and confidence. There was no doubting Daniel Müller-Schott’s confidence, either, in the opening gestures. In the first movement, at least, it seemed that it was the solo cellist who had the measure of the acoustic, filling it with his long, lyrical lines, while the sweet-toned Julia Fischer seeming rather reticent. The rapport between these two musicians is undeniable though, and so it was that dovetailing between the soloists, so vital to this piece, was effortless.

The Andante slow movement exuded late-Brahmsian warmth, the oboe contributions (Ian Hardwick) being particularly noteworthy. Again, interactions between the soloists were fabulously managed. The finale was possibly the weakest movement in that it just failed to take off, despite some wonderful spiccato playing from Fischer. The substantial encore (Johan Halvorsen’s Handelian Passacaglia for violin and cello) was a real delight, unexpected in its length and variety.

It’s good to see Jurowski championing some lesser-known Bruckner. The Second is a wonderful piece but is not quite mature Bruckner. Perhaps that’s reflected in the number of editions available. Jurowski gave us the first, of 1872 – although programme note writer Stephen Johnson failed to explore this aspect of the piece, including the placement of the Scherzo as the second movement. Jurowski, in an interval interview on BBC Radio 3, stated he intends, in time, to present all the various versions of these symphonies, seeing them as stages in a journey.

It was an exceptional performance. Jurowski had evidently thought long and hard about orchestral layout: eight double-basses at the back provided a burnished backbone of sound. Evidence of extended rehearsal was in evidence right from the start, with the cello gestures preternaturally together. The string sound was deep and burnished, here and throughout. The most impressive aspect of this reading, though, was the unapologetic presentation of the textures, so the sometimes bare, daring orchestration made its full point. Again, ensemble was exemplary in the scampering Scherzo – and the violas excelled in the Trio; but it was the sheer drama of the final moments that left an indelible impression.

The hushed strings that opened the Andante were magical; similarly the first horn solo (John Ryan) against pizzicato strings. Jurowski paced this movement with a sense of magnificent, noble inevitability. The buzzing opening of the finale came as the perfect complement and, again, Jurowski guided the listener expertly through Bruckner’s symphonic jungle. The characteristic post-climax Bruckner silences revealed the RFH audience in mesmerised silence; the similarly characteristic Bruckner repeated fragments gained great momentum in Jurowski’s hands, moving us towards those climaxes beautifully.

This concert is available for a limited time on BBC iPlayer. One can only wish for the Bruckner to be issued on the LPO Live label.

Colin Clarke