Grandiose Bruckner from a glowing LPO under Paavo Järvi at the Royal Festival Hall

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Stravinsky, Bruckner: Leila Josefowicz (violin), London Philharmonic Orchestra / Paavo Järvi (conductor). Royal Festival Hall, London, 6.4.2024. (JR)

Leila Josefowicz © Tom Zimberoff

Stravinsky – Violin Concerto
Bruckner – Symphony No.7 (Nowak edition)

Leila Josefowicz is perhaps best known for her penchant for the works of contemporary composers such as Oliver Knussen and John Adams, so it is a step back to Stravinsky, and his neo-classical mode rather than the avant-garde. The concerto certainly has its technical difficulties, the opening chord to name just one; Stravinsky was a pianist not a string player and needed guidance on what was playable and what was not. Josefowicz surmounted all the difficulties with ease. Her flowing multi-coloured dress was a creation perfectly suited to the piece. The concerto itself, in four short movements, is only just over twenty minutes long, so compact. It never outstays its welcome. There is plenty of time for the soloist to inject energy, passion, sensitivity and sentiment and show off virtuosic skills – Josefowicz had all of these virtues to hand. Josefowicz and Järvi revelled in the rhythmic opening movement, playful, witty, jaunty – characteristics which suit Järvi’s persona. Aria I is the most modern in nature, Josefowicz made it easy listening. Aria II was haunting, Stravinsky must have foreseen what was to unfold in central Europe (the concerto stems from 1931). The motoric finale had Josefowicz the centre of attention, Paavo Järvi the sensitive accompanist. Josefowicz brought the complex score to its energetic close and rapturous applause. Rapport and affection between conductor and soloist were evident (Josefowicz is Järvi’s former sister-in-law).

I last heard Järvi and Bruckner’s Seventh two years ago at the Tonhalle in Zurich with his orchestra, the Tonhalle Orchester Zürich (review here 27.1.22) which was overwhelming and loud (one critic thought too loud). Järvi first concluded a Bruckner cycle with the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra and is on his way to complete his second cycle with his Swiss orchestra in September; his Alpha Classics idiomatic recording of Bruckner’s Eighth Symphony has won the 2024 International Classical Music Award for Symphonic Music, praised for its luminosity, gravity and transparency The gorgeous and newly renovated Tonhalle is a shoebox gem both visually and acoustically, very transparent sound, and loud can seem very loud. This is never a problem at the Royal Festival Hall where the sound has plenty of space to dissipate: volume is a virtue not a vice.

Järvi’s reading, unsurprisingly, was identical to his Zurich interpretation, perfectly judged tempi, measured beat, grasp of the composer’s architectural structure. The orchestra were on their best behaviour and form. The coda of the final movement was particularly thrilling. The Wagner tubas excelled in the homage to Wagner, who was on his deathbed as Bruckner composed the symphony. The tuba player moved centre stage to add weight to the horn section. The atmosphere of the second movement was suitably reverential (feierlich) and grandiose with the cymbal clash at the climax of the Adagietto perfectly executed. The Scherzo had a sense of real fun, Järvi had a continuous smile on his face and many heads in the audience were bobbing. The double bass section had a whale of a time. Rapturous applause all round at the end, especially for the Wagner tuba players – and for Paavo Järvi. Hopefully Järvi will return to the London concert stage soon – perhaps with Bruckner’s Eighth?

John Rhodes

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