Thursday, 1 December 2011

Pintscher, Beethoven and Bruckner: LPO/Jurowski with Lars Vogt (RFH)

Poor Vladimir Jurowski. The London Philharmonic's principal conductor probably had enough challenges in keeping this demanding programme together yesterday without having to deal with some unexpected audience participation. But he led his players in a deft, detailed account of Matthias Pintscher's seven-minute towards Osiris only to have his efforts, and those of an expanded LPO, greeted with a shout of 'what a load of rubbish!'. The rest of the audience's polite but shocked applause was then countered by further booing from the same man. It was a bizarre thing to witness, but I understand it is now something of a regular occurrence at LPO concerts -- I'd heard of a similar intrusion mid-way through Osmo Vanska's Bruckner 4 a couple of weeks ago, but wasn't there so cannot say if it was the same malcontent then as it was here. In her review of that concert, Erica Jeal noted that 'there's no way to heckle classical concerts without seeming weird', and so it proved here.

Yet it was an intervention that made me wonder a little about whether the non-committal politesse that can be an audience default at so many classical concerts is really any better. Certainly Jurowski, who apparently gave this heckler an ironic thumbs up, seemed more put out by the lukewarm applause drizzled half-heartedly between the movements of Bruckner's Symphony No.1 in the second half -- less an outbreak of spontaneous appreciation, I felt, than a nervy reaction to the music simply stopping. Jurowski scowled a bit between Adagio and Scherzo, but plumped effectively for a raised fist to command silence between Scherzo and Finale.

It reminded me of the endless debate -- invariably wheeled out in comment sections before every Proms season -- regarding an audience's right to express a reaction. One's right to shout out an immediate response rarely seems to be upheld (unsurprisingly so), yet wouldn't this come under the the same 'historical' justifications that are used to sanction applause between movements? They applauded between movements of Haydn symphonies in the eighteenth century, we are told; so, if a torrent of verbal abuse was good enough for the premiere of the Rite of the Spring, shouldn't it also be good enough for us? Applause between movements is promoted as the natural release of better-out-than-in enthusiasm, which is fair enough. But surely there's nothing worse than automatic applause as a kind of Pavlovan response to anything coming to end. I'm being polemical, of course, and generally subscribe (for what it's worth) to the view that one shouldn't behave in a way that might affect anyone else's enjoyment or ability to concentrate, but still...

As it happened, Jurowski's edge-of-the-seat Bruckner certainly deserved all the genuine enthusiasm that was reserved for the end. The First Symphony has a precarious position at the start of the composer's canon --preceded, of course, by the Studiensinfonie and No.0 'Die Nullte'. The composer himself called it 'das kecke Beserl'; 'an untranslatable phrase', Derek Watson tells us in his old Master Musicians Bruckner, '"the saucy little besom" being the nearest equivalent'. But Jurowski made a lot of sense out of it. He captured all its unexpected twists and turns brilliantly, and the LPO played out of their skins, making a sound at once luxurious and sinewy.

I found it difficult to make up my mind about the Pintscher. It was composed, the programme tells us, for the Berlin Philharmonic in 2005 as one of a handful of contemporary complements to Holst's Planets. He's since gone on to compose a full-scale Osiris, describing this shorter a work as a study for that. The skill on show was immense, with Pintscher marshalling a large orchestra -- with a great deal of divisi writing -- with an impressive ear for detail and texture. I'd be intrigued to hear the full work, though, to find out how he develops this promising material.

The programme was completed with Beethoven's 'Emperor' Concerto in a strangely overdetermined account that brimmed with nice details but fell short of a totally convincing interpretative whole. Pianist Lars Vogt and his conductor hadn't, it seemed, quite worked out what approach they were taking, with period touches (hard-sticked timps and natural trumpets) mixing with playing from Vogt that pushed at dynamic extremes but only really seemed to settle in the finale.

The LPO play another interesting programme at the RFH on Saturday: Julian Anderson's Fantasias, Mozart's Violin Concerto No.5 (with Janine Jansen) and the glorious, sprawling heart-on-sleeve-athon that is Tchaikovsky's 'Manfred' Symphony.

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