United Kingdom Bridge, Prokofiev and Tchaikovsky: Beatrice Rana (piano), London Philharmonic Orchestra / Michail Jurowski (conductor), Royal Festival Hall, London, 22.11.2017. (AS)
Bridge – Summer
Prokofiev – Piano Concerto No.3 in C, Op.26
Tchaikovsky – Symphony No.1 in G minor, Op.13, Winter Daydreams
Several Russian conductors have been or are notable performers of British music, for instance Rozhdestvensky and Svetlanov in the past, and in contemporary times Vasily Petrenko, Sinaisky and Vladimir Jurowski have proved their credentials. But I have been unable to trace British repertoire in the career of Vladimir Jurowski’s father Michail, though it may be there.
We are used to the idea of the sons of famous conductors following in their fathers’ footsteps, but although he has conducted the orchestra before, it was an unusual experience to see Michail Jurowski in front of the LPO instead of the familiar figure of his son Vladimir, the orchestra’s Principal Conductor and Artistic Advisor.
Though it created a seasonal balance with Tchaikovsky’s Winter Daydreams Symphony, Frank Bridge’s Summer was a most unusual but very welcome programme opener. But was it Jurowski’s choice or that of his son or other series planners? (The LPO will be giving attention to other seasonal works later this month).
Summer is a fine example of the composer’s earlier maturity. The work is poignantly expressive and pungent in invention, almost as if the fleeting season of warmth and sunlight is being recalled as a memory. Bridge only uses a moderately-sized orchestra, but he creates wonderfully individual timbres and textures. On the whole Jurowski delivered an account of the piece that conveyed its nature and quality reasonably well, but there was a slightly stilted quality in the playing, a lack of fluidity in the phrasing, so that Bridge’s characteristic feeling of glowing ecstasy was not quite achieved.
At the age of 24 Beatrice Rana has already garnered a reputation as a pianist of great character and vitality, and Prokofiev’s Third Concerto seemed tailored to show off her exciting virtuosity. Though her posture is almost immobile her fingers seem to have limitless dexterity, and after the solo clarinet’s opening melody had set the scene Rana set off at quite a furious pace, with Jurowski and the LPO in close attendance. Brilliance was the keynote, though the pianist relaxed nicely in the lyrical episodes. In the central movement, with its set of variations on a theme initially stated by the orchestra, Rana projected the contrasting nature of the various episodes with needle sharp pianism, some lovely, pearly and expressive playing in the more reflective music sharply contrasted with scintillating drive and high tension elsewhere. By now one expected the last movement to be a tour de force, and so it proved to be, with Jurowski and his players willing and able accomplices in a virtuoso display. Throughout the work speeds were faster than in the composer’s own authoritative 1932 recording, but it didn’t really matter, since this particular concerto can accommodate such an approach. That other works cannot was demonstrated by Rana’s solo encore, the ‘Toccata’ from Debussy’s suite Pour le piano, which was so hectically played that the piece’s basic rhythmic quality was lost in a flurry of fast fingers.
There followed a glorious performance of the Winter Daydreams Symphony. It had plenty of excitement, since despite having to sit for most of the evening the elderly conductor was able to control his forces in a disciplined fashion. That said, one wished that Jurowski’s occasional rise to his feet had been more frequently possible, since he would have been able, maybe, to draw out even more characterful playing from his players in a standing position. But what we had was satisfying enough, since in addition to excitement and strong execution there was a lovely quality of warmth and affection in the conducting, rather more, one might say, than in the more clinical interpretative qualities characteristically exhibited by his son, highly effective though these are. Particularly striking was the lovely quality of tone produced by the string sections, both separately and in ensemble. As for the nature of the reading as a whole, everything seemed just right on this particular night. Here was a vastly experienced conductor simply conveying the fruits of his deep understanding of a composer who is clearly close to his Russian heart.