Rhythmic Vitality in Kopatchinskaja’s Bartók Performance

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United KingdomUnited Kingdom Edinburgh International Festival 2014 (15) – Linberg, Bartók, Beethoven:  Patricia Kopatchinskaja (violin), London Philharmonic Orchestra /Vladimir Jurowski (conductor), Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 18.8.2014 (SRT)

Lindberg:  Chorale
Bartók: Violin Concerto No. 2
Beethoven:   Symphony No. 3, “Eroica”

The last time the London Philharmonic and Vladimir Jurowski were due to play at the Edinburgh Festival, the concert had to be embarrassingly cancelled due to a power cut at the Usher Hall.  No such misfortune tonight, though, and Jurowski generated plenty of electricity of his own during a performance of the Eroica that crackled from beginning to end.  He adopted daringly fast tempi for the first two movements so that the vivace of the Scherzo scarcely registered, but that didn’t stop him broadening out when he needed to, such as in the tentative second subject group of the first movement, or the C major episode of the funeral march.

It was capped by a blooming, ebullient finale that was beautifully shaped, as was Lindberg’s Chorale, the Bachian hymn tune resurfacing repeatedly in a way that I found genuinely impressive, as was the evolution of the string tone from the wiry foundations of the opening through to the flowering positivity of the ending.  Jurowski is a great conductor to watch.  He shapes paragraphs and builds climaxes in a way that makes it pretty obvious what he is doing (something that is surprisingly rare in the conducting business), and both the crowd and the orchestra seemed to love him for it.

I’ll admit, though, that the major draw for me tonight was Patricia Kopatchinskaja playing Bartók’s second concerto, and I wasn’t disappointed.  She’s an incredible force of nature, both to listen to and to watch. She took to the first theme, for example, as if she were striding into the centre of an arena to do battle with it, but without ever sounding vulgar or ostentatious for its own sake. It’s her musicality that sets her out as special, rather than any physical effects, and she has the ability to make the violin sing in a way that is peculiar to her, such as in the outer reaches of the slow movement which were so subtly drawn that sometimes the violin seemed to quiver on the brink of inaudibility.

I wonder, though, whether there’s something about her Eastern European origins and style of playing that makes her peculiarly well suited to Bartók’s music? I can’t imagine many London-trained musicians, for example, throwing themselves into the twisting second theme of the first movement with the same degree of vigour and attack that she does.  Frequently, and especially in the finale, she even seemed to be physically under the music’s control, even when she wasn’t playing: bobbing, twisting, mouthing along to the rhythm, and she even seemed as though she was trying to direct the orchestra at times. The sheer physicality of her playing meant that at times she looked as though she were about to go into orbit, with only her fixed concentration on her playing keeping her (bare!) feet on the ground. Jurowski and the orchestra matched her with visceral, exciting playing that brought out all the rhythmic vitality of the work and wasn’t afraid to reveal Bartok’s often strange colours.

The Edinburgh International Festival runs until Sunday 31st August in venues across the city.  For full details click here.


Simon Thompson

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