In concert – Gabriela Montero, CBSO / Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla: Tchaikovsky & Bruckner

Gabreila-Montero

Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1 in B flat minor Op.23 (1874-5)
Bruckner
Symphony no.6 in A major (1879-81)

Gabriela Montero (piano), City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra / Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla

Symphony Hall, Birmingham
Wednesday 11 May 2022

Written by Richard Whitehouse

Tchaikovsky and Bruckner might not be the likeliest coupling, but this evening’s programme by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra juxtaposed two works of less than a decade apart to arresting and even thought-provoking effect under the baton of Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla.

Gabriela Montero can almost always be relied upon to ring the changes in standard repertoire, as it proved in this account of Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto. Its introduction opulent if not unduly grandiloquent, the opening movement proceeded securely and often imaginatively – Montero unafraid to tackle the orchestra head on in this most elemental confrontation, even while her tone was not free of clatter on occasion. Powerfully shaped and incisively rendered, the cadenza brought forth a spontaneous response to this composer at his most imaginative.

At less than half the length of their predecessor, the remaining movements can feel almost an afterthought, though Montero had the measure of the Andantino with its winsome main theme (elegantly phrased by flautist Marie-Christine Zupancic) with its capricious central section incisively fleet of foot. Heading straight into the final Allegro con fuoco (mention of which was omitted from the programme), she duly balanced pianistic fireworks with tangible pathos on the way to an apotheosis with piano and orchestra at one in conveying the music’s unchecked elation.

From the outset of her career, Montero has advocated the almost lost art (with pianists if not organists) of improvisation, and her encore duly took the title-theme from Ennio Morricone’s score to Cinema Paradiso as basis for an engaging workout along the lines of a Bach fugue.

It was Bruckner’s Sixth that MG-T should have conducted (replaced by Omer Meir-Wellber) at what proved the CBSO’s last ‘home’ concert prior to the corona virus ushering in the first lockdown. Good she has been able to reschedule it, even if the overall result was inconsistent. The initial Majestoso was mostly well judged, even if her modification of tempo between its first and second themes then her hairpin crescendos towards the apexes of the development and coda – the latter being one of Bruckner’s finest inspirations – impeded formal continuity. No such issues affected the Adagio, its ineffable expanse guided with assurance and no little insight towards those climaxes supporting the structure as though pillars of an ecclesiastical edifice – the coda ensuring a benediction whose repose remained after this music had ceased.

Nor was there anything to take issue in a Scherzo whose outer sections had all the requisite verve and wit, with the insouciance of its trio ideally judged. A pity when things rather fell apart in the Finale – its genial second theme just avoiding sentimentality at this halting pace, but whose development unfolded at so inhibited a tempo as to become parenthetical to the movement overall. By the time the coda emerged, any consistency of pulse had long been sacrificed so not even the splendour of the CBSO’s collective response could save the day.

Hopefully MG-T will be able to tackle this recalcitrant work again soon, though tomorrow sees the Tchaikovsky paired with Brahms’s Third Symphony. The CBSO then embarks on another European tour before returning for a History of Soul event at the end of this month.

For more information on the CBSO’s 2021/22 season, visit their website, and for details on the newly announced 2022/23 season click here. Meanwhile for more information on the artists, click on the names to access the websites of Gabriela Montero and Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla

In concert – Mitsuko Uchida, London Philharmonic Orchestra / Vladimir Jurowski: Lachenmann, Beethoven & Bruckner

Mitsuko Uchida Justin Pumfrey

Lachenmann Marche fatale (2018) [UK premiere]
Beethoven
Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major Op. 58 (1805-06)
Bruckner Symphony No. 6 in A major (1879-81) [ed. Benjamin-Gunnar Cohrs]

Mitsuko Uchida (piano), London Philharmonic Orchestra / Vladimir Jurowski

Royal Festival Hall, London
Saturday 9 April 2022

Written by Richard Whitehouse. Photos (c) Justin Pumfrey (Mitsuko Uchida), Thomas Kurek (Vladimir Jurowski)

He might now be its Conductor Emeritus, but Vladimir Jurowski (below) clearly has no intention of curtailing his association with the London Philharmonic Orchestra – tonight’s concert being a distinctive take on what might have seemed a straightforward Austro-German programme.

Jurowski’s leisurely traversal through Bruckner’s symphonies (taking in various editions) has now reached the Sixth, long underestimated in the context of its composer’s maturity but now recognized among his most distinctive and resourceful works. Not least for the way Bruckner integrates those two markedly different tempos of the opening Majestoso so it unfolded here as a seamless span – with the heightened cross-rhythmic transition into the reprise thrillingly effected, then the tonal follow-through of the coda rendered for the mesmeric inspiration it is.

The Adagio is often treated as a forerunner of those from Bruckner’s final three symphonies, but Jurowski rightly placed emphasis on its flowing phrases and eloquent paragraphs as they merge into each other across its expansive yet never overly emotive course. The LPO strings, responding with a burnished richness, were no less attentive to the syncopated impetus of the Scherzo – its outer sections pointing up those martial traits in which this piece abounds, with the trio’s teasing ensemble interplay deftly caught. Never an easy movement to bring off, the Finale undeniably succeeded as to its quixotic traversal – the outwardly fragmented contours of its development endowed with a cumulative dynamism; before its coda stealthily drew the almost antagonistic thematic elements together into a striding march-past towards the close.

Whereas Bruckner was writing at a time of relative European stability, Beethoven composed his Fourth Piano Concerto just before France lay siege to Vienna in a marked intensification of the Napoleonic Wars. This may explain the pathos behind the poetry of its first movement, certainly as Mitsuko Uchida (top) now hears it in a reading whose thoughtful understatement was underpinned by a tension such as came to the fore in the stark contrasts of its (more familiar) cadenza before the fatalistic resolve of its coda. Confrontation between piano and strings in the Andante were similarly elided by the former’s improvisatory solo, while the final Rondo stole in with mischievous intent – the wistfulness of its second theme and its transitions not neglected through to an ending where any lingering equivocation was decisively overcome.

As Jurowski emphasized in his introductory remarks, those who equate Helmut Lachenmann with the ‘musique concrète instrumentale’ of his most (in)famous works may be taken aback by the idiom of his recent Marche fatale. Yet what might sound akin to the anarchic take-off of a cartoon score is essentially a parodistic denunciation of Western civilisation as it careers towards a point of no return, the disjunct and increasingly fractured course of this six-minute piece culminating in a percussive onslaught with gong left resounding ominously at its close.

Seeking to open-out the context, Jurowski prefaced this with the fourth then first of Mauricio Kagel’s Zehn Marsche um den Sieg zu verfehlen (1978-9) – the collisions of woodwind, brass and percussion ‘missing the victory’ in ways a near-capacity audience evidently appreciated.

For further information on the London Philharmonic Orchestra’s 2021/22 season, click here Click on the composer names to read more about Helmut Lachenmann and Mauricio Kagel, and click on the artist names for more information on Mitsuko Uchida and Vladimir Jurowski

In concert – Piotr Anderszewski, CBSO / Omer Meir Wellber: Bartók & Bruckner

Piotr Anderszewski (piano), City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra / Omer Meir Wellber (above)

Symphony Hall, Birmingham
Tuesday 10 March 2020

Bartók Piano Concerto no.3 (1945)
Bruckner Symphony no.6 in A major (1879-81)

Written by Richard Whitehouse

It is a measure of how far Bruckner’s Sixth Symphony has come from being one that even dedicated exponents avoided to one relative newcomers tackle as a way into this composer. The indisposition of Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla could have seen its removal from this evening’s programme, though Omer Meir Wellber (who for the past season has been chief conductor of the BBC Philharmonic, among his portfolio of notable positions) was clearly unfazed by this most technically exacting and emotionally unpredictable among Bruckner symphonies.

As was evident from the start of the Majestoso, the City of Birmingham Symphony’s violins rendering its indelible rhythm with real incisiveness and Wellber duly steering a purposeful course through this most animated of Bruckner’s symphonic movements, while never at the expense of those more lyrical and monumental themes to come. The climactic transition into the reprise was thrillingly done, and how persuasively Wellber pointed up the coda’s breath-taking modulations then its surging peroration whose sudden slowing-up was ideally judged. The Adagio was hardly less fine, with the CBSO strings securing burnished eloquence in its alternation between lament and rapture – underpinned by a majesty no less tangible than that in the following symphonies for all its restraint and, in the closing pages, gentle evanescence.

Other conductors might have found greater wit and insouciance in the Scherzo, but Wellber yielded to few in his delineating of its quizzical and propulsive gestures; nor did the trio want for elegance, for all its final phrase was ‘leant on’ a little too insistently. Notoriously difficult to make cohere, the Finale felt all of a piece with what went before – Wellber mindful that its ultimate affirmation is not without its quixotic or even ironic asides; moreover, that its formal divisions are secondary to its being in constant transition, on the way to an apotheosis where this movement audibly chases its tail as an unlikely and even uproarious means of bringing the work full circle. Quite a piece and quite a reading as set the seal on a performance that, if not the last word as interpretation, was never less than confident and assured in its traversal.

Coupling Bruckner with Bartók might seem a risky strategy but, in the event, the Austrian’s ‘cheekiest’ symphony followed-on ideally from the Hungarian’s deftest piano concerto. Piotr Anderszewski’s (above) take on the Third was one of judicious touches, not least an initial Allegretto tougher and more demonstrative than usual, without sacrificing this music’s innate sense of ingratiation. What followed was arguably too slow for an Andante, though how acutely the pianist brought out its ‘religioso’ marking in those poised exchanges of soloist and strings then woodwind – the brief central scherzo a ‘night music’ as delectable as it was evocative. Nor did Anderszewski under-characterize the final Allegro, its underlying vivacity accorded heft and not a little ambiguity on route to the most agile and uninhibited of Bartók’s codas.

A successful concert, then, which should certainly find favour on the (regrettably truncated) European tour the CBSO now undertakes. It is back in Symphony Hall for Verdi’s Requiem, then a varied programme that features the UK premiere of Julian Anderson’s Cello Concerto.

Further listening

Here is a Spotify playlist of music from the concert. The CBSO have not recorded the Bruckner before there is a recent version available from their former chief conductor, Sir Simon Rattle, and the London Symphony Orchestra. The playlist also includes the CBSO, Rattle and pianist Peter Donohoe in a 1992 recording of the Bartók:

For further information on the current season of CBSO concerts, visit the orchestra’s website

Friendly Fire – Natalia Gutman, London Philharmonic Orchestra / Vladimir Jurowski

natalia-gutmanFriendly Fire – Natalia Gutman (above), London Philharmonic Orchestra / Vladimir Jurowski

Royal Festival Hall, London; Wednesday 27 January 2016

Welcome to Arcana’s new ‘alternative’ reviews slot! It is an ‘ask the audience’ feature – where I (Ben Hogwood) take a friend / colleague who doesn’t normally attend a classical concert and get them to review it in the bar afterwards. First up is Tony Winter, a young-at-heart 50-something from Watford, who shares his thoughts on a program of Schnittke (Pianissimo), Shostakovich (Cello Concerto no.2) and Bruckner (Symphony no.3 – original version)

tw

Arcana: How did you prepare for this concert?

Tony: Well I had a shave (d’oh! – Ed) No, I’ve been playing some recordings of the Shostakovich and a little bit of the Bruckner. Not the Schnittke, which was a bit of a surprise! I haven’t done an enormous amount of preparation.

What was your musical upbringing?

I had a brief encounter with the violin which I never really got on with – I didn’t get on with the teacher – and then when I was about 13 the guitar, but that was rock music. I played the guitar for years. When I retire it’s going to come out again! I played in a band called The Committee, but to be fair by the time they’d risen to fame they’d chucked me out!

Name three musical acts you love and why:

I love Bach, just because of the melodies. I think you can look at other people and say the orchestration is great but for me the genius is the melody. James Rhodes says ‘the immortal Bach’, which sums it up.

I’ve been playing a lot of David Bowie recently with his demise, I was a big fan of Bowie up to about the Let’s Dance era, and now suddenly I’ve been playing some of the later albums as I’ve been guilty of overlooking some of them. I don’t like it when it gets too commercial! But I think later on he was saying that he didn’t give a shit, which is an approach I’ve always liked.

The Outside album was described as ‘difficult and industrial’ but I think it’s great. I wonder in 200 years if people will be playing Bowie? He died at the same age as Shostakovich but who knows? Only time will tell. How many people were on stage tonight, over 100? I’m sure everyone would be using that if there weren’t cost implications to it!

I don’t know whether to say the Rolling Stones or Mozart for the third!

Have you been to classical music concerts before, and if so what has been your experience?

I’ve been to a few over the years – I’ve even started going to a few operas! Living close to the Watford Colosseum I’ve been going to concerts there as I’m a bit of a lazy bugger. I tend to go to any classical concerts they put on there. I’ve seen Beethoven’s 9th at Westminster Abbey, but that was a bit echoey!

James Rhodes sticks in the mind for his more modern presentation which particularly appealed to my kids. They’re learning the piano so that helped but it helped that he stood up and made a few jokes. I’m not saying everyone has to turn into a variety act but he judged it right. I like sitting at the front in an intimate gig, but coming here tonight though I think I should drag my sorry arse into London more as I don’t think you could fit that orchestra on the stage in Watford!

What did you think of the Schnittke?

I think I’d have to give it a few more listens. It did somewhat sound like they were tuning up for a while, and I’m not sure I liked the screeching of the flute over the top. Parts of it were interesting though, and when the violins came in quietly and slowly it almost sounded like a Jimi Hendrix track where he’s playing the guitar backwards. There were elements of it that appealed to me, and I will definitely investigate more. It didn’t grab me by the throat.

What about the Shostakovich?

I enjoyed that for a variety of reasons. Because I had prepared by having a few versions on in the background it had sunk in a bit, and then when you’re actually watching it live you’ve got to concentrate on it, and I thought Natalia Gutman was obviously really fantastic. It was an interesting piece and I really enjoyed it.

What about the Bruckner?

I did enjoy it but it was a different version to the one I’d been playing. It felt like it was building up to the end for a while! When I was listening to it at home I thought there were echoes of Beethoven in it, but listening to it tonight he was heavily influenced by Wagner and I could hear that. It wasn’t as melodic as some of the Beethoven symphonies, and I wasn’t overwhelmed by it.

I don’t think Bruckner will be one of my favourites, but then again, maybe I need to go back and listen to it! It was fantastic seeing an orchestra of that size, with ten double basses. As a bit of a hi-fi geek, you think that’s what it should sound like!

What about the environment and setting of the concert, and how it was promoted?

Well they didn’t get me down here, you did! I do feel strongly about this though because at the Watford Colosseum you go down there, and they’re absolutely fantastic, and the place is quarter full. You think why is this, as it’s fantastic value for money and there are as many people on stage as in the audience!

The Royal Festival Hall is very nice though and before the concert the youth musicians of the London Philharmonic Orchestra, The Foyle Future Firsts, were great. They were playing Shostakovich’s incidental music to Hamlet, and Vladimir Jurowski got up and talked about the piece and gave us loads of facts about it for ten minutes before they played. I was hugely impressed by that, it was really nice to see and the musicians were great. It was well worth the effort getting down here early!

Arcana’s brief thoughts on the concert:

A really rewarding evening which represented great value with a concert that lasted two and a half hours. The Schnittke, as Tony says, sounded a bit like an excerpt from a horror movie.

The Shostakovich was deeply considered by Natalia Gutman, who did not play with great volume but who managed to project her thoughts to a spellbound audience. She is one of the great surviving musicians from Shostakovich’s era, and it was a humbling experience to see her play – she may have missed one particularly crucial entry in the finale but her thoughts elsewhere were extremely profound.

Finally the Bruckner, a real tour de force – and a superb account from the orchestra and the brass in particular. This is one of Bruckner’s wildest symphonies, full of ideas that are not always controlled, and Jurowski projected the tension between instinct and adhering to symphonic form. The triumphant end was well-earned.

Under the surface – Bruckner: String Quintet and Quartet (Linn)

bruckner-fitzwilliam

Fitzwilliam String Quartet, James Boyd (viola)

Composer: Anton Bruckner (1824-1896)

Nationality: Austrian

What did he write? Bruckner’s reputation is almost entirely built on his nine symphonies and three Masses, which form the bulk of his regularly performed repertoire. However there are also a number of exquisite motets for unaccompanied choir.

What are the works on this new recording? Bruckner wrote very little chamber music, but the two works recorded here are by far the most substantial. The String Quintet is an ambitious, substantial piece that could easily be imagined for string orchestra, while the recently discovered String Quartet represents another sizeable contribution to the form.

What is the music like? The Bruckner of the symphonies is only occasionally glimpsed here, for this is music to fill drawing rooms rather than cathedrals. The quintet especially fulfils its purpose with intimacy and depth of emotion, especially in the slow movement, where the Fitzwilliam Quartet and James Boyd really go up a level.

The outer movements are a little less successful, in this recording at least, for the textures are a little congested. However the String Quartet in C minor of 1862, discovered in 1950, justifies its case for a more permanent place in the quartet repertoire, as it is a substantial and memorable work. The third movement Scherzo has a distinctive theme while the outer movements are resilient and very well done here.

As a bonus, the Fitzwilliam and Boyd include an alternative version of the Intermezzo for the String Quintet, given a polished and elegant performance here.

What’s the verdict? This new Fitzwilliam Quartet disc makes a compelling case for the recently discovered work, but is not always on the money in the Quintet itself. The Intermezzo could have a little more humour in its theme, while the outer movements sound a little grainy in the recording.

Give this a try if you like… Brahms, Mendelssohn or Schubert

Listen

You can listen to excerpts from this new disc on the Linn Records website