Online music recommendations – Summer sessions in London

With the continued restrictions on live performance preventing orchestras from performing in the conventional sense, ensembles have been giving concerts and subscriptions online. Two of the biggest London orchestras have been running series through the summer which are highly recommended.

The London Symphony Orchestra have been giving a series of Summer Shorts at LSO St. Luke’s through July and August, and is set to conclude in thrilling fashion with a concert from the LSO Percussion Ensemble on Friday 21 August at 1pm. You can watch it on the LSO website here

The programme begins with Chick Corea’s Duet Suite, arranged by Simon Carrington, before two pieces from Gwilym Simcock – his Quintet, which the ensemble have already recorded, and the shorter piece Barber Blues.

Also available to watch is the concert from the Friday just gone, given by the piano trio Belinda McFarlane (violin), Jennifer Brown (cello) and pianist Elizabeth Burley. Their intriguing hour of music begins with Judith Lang Zaimont’s Nocturne, before A Winged Spirit, the new piece from Hannah Kendall. Wrapping things up is Rachmaninov’s passionate but seldom heard Trio élégiaque no.1:

Across town in the Henry Wood Hall, the different sections of the London Philharmonic Orchestra have been giving concerts for reduced forces. Their Summer Sessions began on July 15 with a rather lovely set for strings, including the Elgar Serenade for Strings, the first Concerto Grosso of the Op.6 set by Corelli and Grieg’s sunny Holberg Suite:

Then the winds stepped up on two weeks later, playing Rossini’s Sonata no.1, Mozart’s wonderful Serenade in E flat major K375 and Janáček’s Mládí:

Brass and percussion were next, with a program of fanfares and divertimenti featuring works by Sir Malcolm Arnold, Richard Bissill, Leonard Salzedo, Stanley Woods and Simon Carrington:

Finally the orchestra will celebrate the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth with a vibrant program including the Septet in E flat major, the Quintet for piano and wind and the lesser known Trio for piano, flute and bassoon. You can catch that concert on the London Philharmonic Orchestra’s YouTube channel here

On record – Penderecki: Horn Concerto, Adagio, Violin Concerto no.1, Threnody (LPO)

Radovan Vlatković (horn); Barnabás Kelemen (violin), London Philharmonic Orchestra / Krzysztof Penderecki (Horn Concerto, Adagio, Threnody), Michał Dworzyński (Violin Concerto no.1)

Penderecki
Horn Concerto ‘Winterreise’ (2008)
Adagio for Strings (1995/2013)
Violin Concerto no.1 (1977)
Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima (1960)c)

London Philharmonic Orchestra LPO0116 [78’32”]

Producers Nicholas Parker(Horn Concerto, Adagio, Threnody), Matthew Dilley (Violin Concerto no.1)
Engineer Mike Hatch (Horn Concerto, Adagio, Threnody), Richard Bland (Violin Concerto no.1)

Recorded 27 November 2013 (Horn COncerto, Adagio, Threnody), 14 October 2015 (Violin Concerto no.1), Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre, London

Written by Richard Whitehouse

What’s the story?

Although this release on the London Philharmonic Orchestra’s in-house label was clearly not intended as a commemorative issue, the death of Krzysztof Penderecki on 29th March (at the age of 87) makes it such – not least as its content ranges across almost 50 years of his output.

What’s the music like?

The Horn Concerto is wholly representative of Penderecki’s latter-day music, with its subtitle Winterreise indicative of the evocative soundscape through which the soloist ventures. The composer has said that Schubert’s eponymous masterwork had no influence on his piece, yet its presence often feels hard to ignore – not least at the very opening when, over glacial lower strings, brass then woodwind set up an arresting backdrop for the soloist’s initial appearance. From this point on the music alternates between animated dialogue, frequently with a martial undertow from wind and percussion, and sombre soliloquy with strings to the fore. The terse coda wraps up matters in fatefully decisive terms. As might be expected of one who gave the premiere, Radovan Vlatković is finely attuned to this work’s often disjunctive mood-swings.

Of the shorter pieces, the Adagio is a transcription for strings of the central (third) movement from Penderecki’s Third Symphony – so giving a new lease of life to music whose pathos is accentuated by evocative soloistic writing. It was Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima that brought Penderecki to international attention and if its claims to embody emotional extremis have been exaggerated (not least by the composer), the calculated impact of those dynamic and textural contrasts still brooks no compromise – at least when assessed on its own terms.

In concert, these pieces were heard either side of the Horn Concerto; here, they frame a rather more significant piece. When it appeared, the First Violin Concerto felt intent on confirming Penderecki’s renouncing of avant-garde credentials in favour of the neo-Romantic idiom that, with modifications, he pursued thereafter. Rehearing the work points up just how much of his earlier language was retained. The concerto unfolds as a single movement in which a sonata-form outline is expanded by interpolating slow movement and scherzo, for all that the overall tempo is predominantly slow. Barnabás Kelemen integrates the solo part into the orchestra to a degree that is formally and expressively cohesive, the finesse and eloquence of his playing confirmed by a lengthy cadenza that encapsulate thematic content prior to the sombre coda.

Does it all work?

Yes, so long as one accepts that Penderecki is a composer liable to repeat himself within and between works. His conducting is dependable without being overly insightful, while Michał Dworzyński draws a tensile and alert response from the London Philharmonic as to reinforce the sense that the First Violin Concerto is ready for re-evaluation. That Penderecki arguably spent the intervening decades trying and largely failing to achieve a comparable formal and expressive synthesis has not lessened its importance in the context of music from this period.

Is it recommended?

Yes, given the (relative) stylistic range of the works featured and, moreover, the excellence of the LPO’s playing. Those interested should acquire it primarily for the First Violin Concerto which, among Penderecki’s larger orchestral works, seems likely to prove the most enduring.

Listen

Buy
You can listen to clips from the recording and purchase, either in physical or digital form, at the London Philharmonic Orchestra website

In concert – Peter Donohoe, London Philharmonic Orchestra / Vladimir Jurowski: Foulds ‘Dynamic Triptych’ & Shostakovich Symphony no.11

Peter Donohoe (piano), London Philharmonic Orchestra / Vladimir Jurowski (above)

Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre, London
Wednesday 11 December 2019

Foulds Dynamic Triptych (1929)
Shostakovich Symphony no.11 in G minor Op.103 The Year 1905 (1957)

You can listen to this concert on the BBC Sounds app here, though you may wish to skip the interval of Shostakovich’s String Quartet no.8 for continuity.

Reviewed by Ben Hogwood

The London Philharmonic Orchestra’s Isle of Noises series has attracted – for me at least – some unfair criticism in recent days of the works included in its remit. Granted, the choices are all English, but the composers look beyond these shores with a willingness seemingly out of kilter with the current political climate.

John Foulds is a case in point; a composer who spent the final five years of his life in India before a tragic early death to cholera. Not only did he live in India but he actively explored its musical systems, looking to see how he could incorporate his discoveries and influences into the framework of classical music.

The Dynamic Triptych is a striking example of successful integration. Completed in 1929, its musical language is well beyond its years. In the first movement Foulds becomes obsessed with a modal scale, repeating it over and over rather like Scriabin would do with towers of chords based on intervals of a fourth. The task of playing the modal scales often fell in this performance to the muscular piano part, played with great authority by Peter Donohoe (above). The pianist has spent a great deal of time with this work, recording it with Sakari Oramo and the CBSO in 2006. He led a highly spirited performance, yet despite his brilliant passagework and percussive interventions in the fast music the soul of the work lay in the slow movement.

Here the strings’ quarter tones, beautifully played, brought added mystery to the picture when dressed with evocative percussion, adding to music already in the grip of a poignant sense of loss. Piano and orchestra regrouped for a finale that galloped ahead, Foulds letting the music off the leash to explore more far-flung tonal areas, before a silvery waltz theme was introduced to complement the quickstep. Both fused for a bold and dramatic finale, capping a well-received performance. This was forward looking music of English origin, and not in a 12-tone style either! The LPO should be praised for its inclusion and Vladimir Jurowski, who conducted with characteristic sensitivity, will hopefully explore more of Foulds’ colourful scores in the future.

The colours vanished dramatically after the interval for the opening pages of Shostakovich’s Symphony no.11. This performance took on added poignancy with a dedication from Jurowski to Mariss Jansons, sadly departed the previous weekend at the age of 76. Jansons was guest conductor of the London Philharmonic Orchestra from 1992 to 1997, and he grew up in St Petersburg, on close personal terms with Shostakovich. The Eleventh Symphony, depicting the slaughter of protestors in the city as part of the Russian Revolution in January 1905, could not have been closer to home.

What a performance it was. For an hour we barely moved as Shostakovich’s first-hand account of the action took hold in vivid, cinematic detail. The icy Palace Square of the city could not have been colder in Jurowski’s hands, with ominous timpani rolls signalling tragedy all too early on. When it came, in the second movement, the massacre was delivered by music of uncompromising and stunning power, the proud brass chorale ultimately shut down by deafening percussion before the door slammed shut. Suddenly the square was silent, save for the strings’ icy tendrils which extended once again towards the audience, noticeably holding its collective breath.

The London Philharmonic were absolutely superb. With 22 cellos and basses playing as one, digging in to the ice as though their lives depended on it, the performance was on sure foundations, above which we had special woodwind contributions, with cor anglais (Sue Bohling) and bass clarinet (Paul Richards) just two of several exceptional solos. The percussionists, a vital cog in the Shostakovich machine, judged their contributions ideally too, with sharp snare drum retorts complemented by rolling bass drum and gong.

Still the tension remained, through an elegiac slow movement where the violas’ melody could not have been more poignantly played by David Quiggle and his section. The dedication to Jansons felt most intense here, and the players were given due acknowledgement by Jurowski in their well-deserved curtain call. Yet despite the deeply personal aspect of the performance there were even sharper parallels with the political climate of today, reminding listeners of the protests in Hong Kong and the forthcoming UK election, not to mention the disinformation, code and discrimination that permeate today’s society at every turn.

This account lived and breathed all of those dreadful things, and as the performance reached its shattering climax with tolling bells, Shostakovich was communicating with ever more piercing clarity. It may not be his most accomplished symphony but the Eleventh is one of his most descriptive and emotive. As Jurowski held the score aloft afterwards it was clear he felt the same – and I for one left reeling at the impact of a memorable performance.

Further listening

This Spotify playlist gives recordings of the Eleventh Symphony from Mariss Jansons himself, conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra, and Peter Donohoe with the CBSO under Sakari Oramo in the John Foulds Dynamic Triptych:

You can read a tribute to Mariss Jansons on the London Philharmonic Orchestra website

Live review – Viktoria Mullova, Matthew Barley & LPO / Orozco-Estrada: Dusapin premiere

Viktoria Mullova (violin, below), Matthew Barley (cello, below), London Philharmonic Orchestra / Andrés Orozco-Estrada (above)

Royal Festival Hall, London
Wednesday 28 November 2018

Enescu Romanian Rhapsody No. 1 in A, Op. 11 No. 1 (1901)
Dusapin At Swim-Two-Birds (LPO co-commission: UK premiere) (2017)
Martinů Symphony No. 4, H305 (1945)
Ravel La Valse (1920)

Written by Richard Whitehouse

This centenary year of the establishing of a greater Romanian state (aka the National Day of Romania) brought tonight’s varied programme from the London Philharmonic under Andres Orozco-Estrada, now into his third season as the orchestra’s principal guest conductor.

Enescu‘s First Romanian Rhapsody might have seemed almost too obvious a choice, but this sophisticated piece suffused with the ‘confidence of youth’ is hardly a populist crowd-pleaser, so making Orozco-Estrada’s rather superficial approach the more disappointing. The opening exchanges were prosaic, the ensuing episodes lacking in wit and (to quote Richard Bratby’s note) insouciance and the heady climactic stages rather jog-trotted their way forward without much hint of that deftness and effervescence as can still excite audiences nearly 120 years on.

The first UK hearing of a major work from Pascal Dusapin is never to be passed over, with At Swim-Two-Birds continuing the series of concertante pieces running through his creative maturity. The title is that of Flann O’Brien’s 1939 novel, which considers Irish culture from a decidedly post-Joycean perspective, but Dusapin’s concerto hardly reflects this beyond its being a double concerto in two movements – both interweaving incisive passages with those that float suspended above their recurring key-notes. Viktoria Mullova (above) and Matthew Barley (below) were fully responsive to their solo and duet writing, whether in the intricate dialogue of the first movement or emerging cadenza-like writing of its successor; during which Dusapin’s predilection for ricocheting percussion and translucent textures came enticingly to the fore.

Such qualities are no less central, albeit put to very different ends, in the Fourth Symphony that Martinů wrote towards the end of the Second World War – when a victorious outcome could openly be expressed. The result is its composer’s most affirmative such piece, though there are many instances of ambivalence and Orozco-Estrada was attentive to such as those moments of stasis in the first movement’s subtly curtailed sonata design, offbeat accents that impede forward motion in the scherzo (its folk-tinged trio enchantingly evoking Dvorak), or sudden and teasing shifts in perspective which rein-in the emotional fervency of the Lento. The finale, too, has glimpses of doubt but Orozco-Estrada marshalled momentum unerringly through to a peroration that caps what should now be a repertoire work in outright jubilation.

An impressive reading, then, which found the partnership between orchestra and conductor at its finest. After this, was La Valse (or anything else for that matter) really necessary? Not that this performance was without its merits, Orozco-Estrada mindful to avoid letting an endlessly fascinating and always unnerving work descend to the level of mindless showpiece, but the music’s reserves of irony and violence sounded merely hectoring when heard in this context. That said, the visceral close was finely navigated by an LPO intent on projecting every bar.

This enterprising and often exhilarating concert was enthusiastically received by all those present. Hopefully Orozco-Estrada will tackle further Enescu and Martinu in future, while a too little known piece as Prokofiev’s Russian Overture fairly cries out for his advocacy.

London Philharmonic Orchestra / Vladimir Jurowski – An Autumn Symphony

Julia Fischer (violin, below), London Philharmonic Orchestra / Vladimir Jurowski (above)

Royal Festival Hall, London, Wednesday 29 November 2017

Chausson Poème, Op. 25 (1896)

Respighi Poema autunnale, P146 (1925)

Marx Eine Herbstsymphonie (1921) [UK premiere]

Reviewed by Richard Whitehouse

Vladimir Jurowski continues to ring the changes in terms of repertoire, with this evening’s concert by the London Philharmonic Orchestra no exception in featuring the UK premiere of Eine Herbstsymphonie, the most ambitious undertaking from Austrian composer Joseph Marx.

Although best remembered for his substantial output of songs, Marx (1882-1964) spent the decade after the First World War essaying large-scale orchestral works – chief among them being this Autumn Symphony premiered (by Felix Weingartner) in Vienna during 1922 but which went unheard as a complete entity for eight decades after its 1925 revival. Marrying impressionistic harmonies to a Mahlerian formal expansiveness, this is an evocation of its season both in descriptive and philosophical terms – in music as opulent as it is engulfing.

What it lacks is any sense of a cumulative or even over-arching momentum. Sizable forces are deployed expertly if amorphously in terms of the dense yet unvarying texture – though this was hardly the fault of the LPO, which responded to Jurowski’s incisive direction with assurance. Not least in the radiant Autumn Song – less a movement then a prelude to what follows and segueing into Dance of the Noon Spirits, an extensive intermezzo that suffers from its overly uniform waltz-time measure and corresponding lack of rhythmic contrast.

This latter failing is hardly an issue in Autumn Thoughts, a slow movement where serenely unfolding paragraphs and taciturn solos for wind and strings effect a yearning regret such as draws in the listener whatever its lack of defined melodies. After which, An Autumn Poem provides a finale of Dionysian import – the full orchestra (nine percussionists in addition to timpani and keyboards) moving through a series of increasingly heady climaxes before the music subsides into a postlude suffused with eloquent resignation though tinged by regret.

A significant work historically, then, but hardly a neglected masterpiece that warrants regular revival. Jurowski can only be commended for instigating this performance, as for encouraging so committed an orchestral response as will hopefully find its way onto the LPO’s own label.

Even so, it was the first half that brought greater rewards. With its inspiration in a typically melodramatic story from Ivan Turgenev and breathing an aura of fatalistic dread, Chausson’s Poème has made a welcome return to the repertoire and has also found its ideal exponent in Julia Fischer – her warm and caressing though never over-wrought tone teasing out those expressive nuances which lurk beneath the surface of this emotionally all-enveloping score. Whatever else, its composer experienced the essential qualities of his music in graphic terms.

Latter-day revivals have tended to pair this piece with Ravel’s jarringly contrasted Tzigane, but Fischer choice was far more apposite. Even more overlooked, Respighi’s Autumn Poem itself pursues a full-circle trajectory such as takes in reflection and animation, though one whose overall conciseness proves its own justification. Fischer duly spun the deftest of solo lines through the diaphanous and modally-inflected orchestral texture, in which Jurowski’s accompaniment was astute and affecting in equal measure. Sometimes, less really is more.