United Kingdom Prom 13: Lindberg, Beethoven: Miah Persson (soprano), Anna Stéphany (mezzo-soprano), John Daszak (tenor), Christopher Purves (bass), London Philharmonic Choir and Orchestra, Vladimir Jurowski (conductor), Royal Albert Hall, London, 24.7.2016. (CC)
Lindberg: Two Episodes (world premiere)
Beethoven: Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125, ‘Choral’
Magnus Lindberg’s Two Episodes, a co-commission between the LPO, the Helsinki Festival and Casa da Música, is intended as a complement to Beethoven’s Ninth. The performance was delayed by some time due to a rebuild of the stage after the afternoon Prom, but no matter. The power of Lindberg’s music, and the undimmed voltage of the Beethoven, led to a remarkably charged evening.
Lindberg’s Two Episodes (2016) take their inspiration from two of the movements of the Beethoven: there is a decidedly monumental aspect to the first Episode, while the second links more to the beauty of the slow movement. There are obvious aural links, the clearest of which is the dotted rhythm falling figure, which appears as a sort of recurring musical ghost. Romantic gestures inserted into the ongoing narrative came as something of a surprise; this is more approachable music than, say, Lindberg’s setting of Pompeiian graffiti in his work simply entitled Graffiti (review). The Two Episodes are perfectly crafted, though, and impeccably scored with great imagination – there is a flickering Will’o’th’wisp passage in the second piece that emerged as simply spellbinding, especially with the LPO’s woodwind on such top form. Jurowski seemed to have an X-ray vision into the score, and the whole performance oozed confidence.
Those wishing to explore Lindberg’s music further should perhaps seek out a wonderful disc of his music on Ondine (Finnish Radio SO under Sakari Oramo, ODE 11242): Concerto for Orchestra, Campana in aria and Sculpture. It was nice to see the composer there to take the applause, too. He could hardly have asked for a finer, more committed performance. One forgets, sometimes, the sheer breadth of Jurowski’s repertoire.
The Beethoven was given a lean performance of great power. The modern timpani used for the Lindberg were replaced by period instruments (hard of delivery, but not bullets), while the trumpeters opted for natural instruments. The rapid first movement seemed to attest to a more period approach, the orchestra responding with superb accuracy to Jurowski’s preternaturally tiny beat, the tenutos perfectly judged. It came as a surprise to see Jurowski subdivide the beat into four at times, especially given the chosen tempo, but it all fitted in as part of an interpretation that held the end-goal clearly in sight. The first movement was marked by its drama; the second, a masterful demonstration of tight ensemble, timpani strong but not overly disruptive. If the slow movement opened more Andante than Adagio molto, it still maintained its essential cantabile; the contrasting Andante moderato was proportionally swift and seemed to make near-direct reference to Beethoven’s ‘Pastoral’ Symphony. The fourth horn solo was superbly taken by Martin Hobbs, but even more impressive were the harmonic darkenings Jurowski found in the score.
Finally, the great choral finale, beginning with an orchestral Urschrei that nevertheless was perfectly together. The instrumental “recitatives” were given by the full complement of cellos and only four out of the eight double-basses, in keeping perhaps with the transparency of sound of Jurowski’s outlook (the full complement of double-basses was used for the statement of the main theme). Christopher Purves rightly took his time over his opening declamations, and was in glorious voice; to complement him, John Daszak was an heroic tenor, his “Froh, wie seine Sonnen fliegen” full-voiced and fresh. The ladies, Miah Persson and Anna Stéphany, completed a well-balanced quartet. The chorus was powerful but never heavy or stodgy, rising to Beethoven’s near-unreasonable demands with aplomb. Jurowski had the measure of this great structure, ensuring his speeds, which could be extreme – for example the rapidity of the inserted “march” before the orchestral fugue – made perfect sense overall.
This was a remarkable evening, and thoroughly enjoyable. One thing, and I wonder if it is just me: surely the Ninth should be reinstated to its position at the penultimate night? It seems the perfect place, an apex of symphonic achievement prior to the Last Night’s shenanigans.