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.

The Brussels Philharmonic Orchestra and Stéphane Denève in Beethoven, Guillaume Connesson and Respighi

brussels-philharmonicBrussels Philharmonic Orchestra (above, picture courtesy of Samsung)

Richard Whitehouse on a visit from the Brussels Philharmonic Orchestra and their chief conductor to the Cadogan Hall, offering a rare chance to hear the music of Guillaume Connesson.

Cadogan Hall, Thursday 29 September 2016

Beethoven Symphony No. 6 ‘Pastoral’ (1808)

Connesson Flammenschrift (Letters of Fire) (2012); E chiaro nella valle il fiume appare (And clear in the valley the river appears) (2015)

Respighi Pini di Roma (1924)

Brussels Philharmonic Orchestra / Stéphane Denève

This evening’s concert brought a welcome visit from the Brussels Philharmonic and current music director Stéphane Denève, his advocacy of new music evident in the inclusion of two recent pieces by Guillaume Connesson which were performed on either side of the interval.

Now in his mid-40s, this French composer conjures a wide range of influences from François Couperin, via Wagner and Strauss, to Dutilleux and the film music of Bernard Herrmann and John Williams (a pity the programme book included no biography either of Connesson or the orchestra – while being dominated by an absorbing if, in context, overly detailed note on the Beethoven).

These pieces are the first two parts of a symphonic trilogy, with Flammenschrift both an evocation of Beethoven and a tribute to the ‘golden age’ of Germanic music. Strauss does indeed make a fleeting appearance during the more lyrical central episode; otherwise, it is the incisive neo-classicism of Honegger that comes most readily to mind, with the relentless rhythmic drive generating an impetus maintained right through to the effervescent final pages.

Taking its title from lines by the early nineteenth-century poet Giacomo Leopardi, E chiaro nelle valle il fiume appare is ostensibly the slow movement of this sequence – its alternately ethereal and passionate manner recalling the later music of Roussel (notably the Adagio from the Third Symphony), with Connesson proving hardly less adept in controlling the expressive momentum of music such as borders on without quite spilling over into overkill. Presumably the questioning tone on which it ends is answered by Maslenitsa, the final part of this trilogy.

Make no mistake, Connesson is a composer in which formal security is allied to an orchestral sense of considerable flamboyance. Interesting that, along with older contemporaries such as Nicolas Bacri, he should draw inspiration from an earlier era of French music – bypassing the serial complexity of Boulez or the harmonic intricacy of Grisey or Murail. Accessible without being facile, his music may yet gain regular hearings here, and there could be no doubting the conviction with which orchestra and conductor presented it to tonight’s appreciative audience.

Nor was the Brussels orchestra found wanting in the familiar works which opened and closed proceedings. A viable first half in itself, Beethoven’s ‘Pastoral’ Symphony did not fit into its present context: Denève secured a fluent if rarely insightful reading, as its best in an animated take on the first movement and appealingly jaunty scherzo, but there was a lack of inwardness and repose elsewhere; while an almost complete absence of vibrato from the strings gave their playing an unyielding quality emphasized by the forward ambience of the Cadogan acoustic.

More successful overall was Respighi’s Pines of Rome, the second and most enduring part of a ‘Roman triptych’ by which he remains best known to posterity. Denève found humour amid the frenzy of the ‘Villa borghese’ then drama in the sombre musings ‘near a Catacomb’. The sensuousness of the ‘Janiculum’ saw an amusing cameo from the percussionist operating the gramophone record of a nightingale, whereas the crescendo of the ‘Appian Way’ brought a frisson of excitement abetted by offstage brass and organ that fairly brought the house down.

The Brussels Philharmonic performs the final part of Connesson’s trilogy on 9 April, 2017. Further details at the Cadogan Hall website

Meanwhile further information on the Brussels Philharmonic Orchestra can be found from their website