Exotic and Rare Russian Music Superbly Presented by Jurowski and the LPO

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Changing Faces: Stravinsky’s Journey Music by Rimsky-Korsakov, Glazunov, Tchaikovsky (orch. Glazunov): Kristóf Baráti (violin); Abgharad Lyddon (mezzo-soprano); London Philharmonic Orchestra / Vladimir Jurowski (conductor). Royal Festival Hall, London, 3.2.2018. (CC)

Rimsky-Korsakov Fairy Tale, Op.29

Glazunov – Violin Concerto in A minor, Op.82

TchaikovskySouvenir d’un lieu cher, Op.42: Méditation (orch. Glazunov)

Stravinsky – Faun and Shepherdess, Op.2; Symphony No.1 in E flat, Op.1

Running throughout 2018, the London Philharmonic’s Changing Faces Festival seems to take on the baton from the Philharmonia’s recent Myths and Rituals sequence of concerts and events. With less fanfare than the Philharmonia, perhaps (no lavish booklet, for example), the first concert nevertheless revealed Jurowski’s characteristic intelligence of programming, revealing a handful of works that are rarely heard in the concert hall. Despatched with his characteristic penchant for accuracy – his beat is one of the clearest around, his attention when conducting is purely on the music with no hint of show, ever – and with an ability to change the music’s mood in the blink of an eye, there was an element of a real treat about this evening. One hopes fervently for a recording.

Rimsky-Korsakov’s Fairy Tale, Op.29, is prefaced in its score by Pushkin, yet holds no explicit programme. Jurowski ensured we entered the world of (generalised) fairy magic immediately, though, and the magic continued throughout, just the occasional fleeting scrappiness in the first violins possibly betraying short rehearsal time. There were some lovely solos from the orchestra, though, in particular from Jonathan Davies’ bassoon. Dating from August 1880, Rimsky-Korsakov’s piece set the atmosphere well.

Glazunov’s Violin Concerto (1904) is, like so much of that composer’s music, glorious in its lyricism. It lasts around 20 minutes and is suffused with that characteristic Glazunov glow (Glazunov’s symphonies, incidentally, equally deserve airing). The soloist on this occasion was the young Hungarian Kristóf Baráti, playing on the 1703 ‘Lady Harmsworth’ Stradivarius. Baráti’s sound was superb, not too plush, and he seemed to carry over the orchestra with ease. In keeping with this slightly objective sound, Baráti remained at a slight remove from the score; in doing so, he enabled the music to retain its integrity (it can all to easily sound syrupy). Glazunov’s magical scoring was brilliantly underlined by Jurowski, including some lovely washes of sound from the harp. The central panel of the concerto is a cadenza, brilliantly despatched by Baráti, who gave some fabulous pizzicato chords). The folksong-like melody of the finale was give its full due, while Baráti’s high harmonics towards the end were impeccable. Superb. Almost in the manner of a programmed encore, the first part concluded with a beautiful rendition of the Tchaikovsky Méditation in Glazunov’s orchestration. The LPO strings were wonderfully rich here, the solo violin melody seeming to refer back to the opening of the Glazunov concerto, while the clarinet/violin dialogue was superb.

A nice link was that while Rimsky–Korsakov’s piece was prefaced by a quotation by Pushkin, Stravinsky sets Pushkin in Faun and Shepherdess, his Op.2 of 1906. It was a pity though that the LPO programme contained neither texts nor translations to enable us to relish the poetry as well as the young Abgharad Lyddon’s delicious delivery. Lyddon took the role of Kate in ENO’s Pirates (initially in 2015, her professional debut: see Jim Pritchard’s review; see also my 2017 revival review); the more flattering RFH acoustic enabled us to revel in the freshness of her voice, an absolute joy throughout. Lyddon’s biography lists smaller roles and roles she has understudied (and she will understudy Hermia in ENO’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream this Spring); one hopes this performance will be her gateway to higher profile things.

Finally, we heard Stravinsky’s Symphony No.1, his Op.1. The composer was to abandon the traditional idea of numbering symphonies, but here, in 1905-07, is a Rimsky-Korsakov supervised offering (it is actually dedicated to him). The influence of Glazunov is detectable in this lushly Romantic score. The music is suffused with a youthful generosity as well as exuberance; there is a sense that nothing is reined in, whether in terms of scoring or ideas.  Rimsky-Korsakov is certainly there in some of the textures. It is difficult to imagine the piece handled better than by Jurowski, particularly in his handling of the phenomenally balanced climaxes. Perhaps the final gesture of the first movement was a tad studied, but there was no doubting the effectiveness of the antiphonal violins in the Scherzo, where the link to Glazunov is most detectable. Jurowski powered the movement along with a bouncy, rhythmic spring before the Tchaikovskian Largo was sculpted to perfection, its climax underlined by powerful brass chords. The bright, confident finale closed a simply superb, generous, concert. Each and every part of this series will be eagerly anticipated.

Colin Clarke

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