Vladimir Jurowski has been “much-watched” as a candidate on the BSO’s short list of potential Music Directors. Indeed, Tony Fogg, the BSO’s Artistic Advisor was in Symphony Hall Friday, March 8th to witness the concert by The London Philharmonic Orchestra under. Jurowski’s direction.
The program was intriguingly diverse. The first half was given to the dour and daunting Shostakovich Violin Concerto No. 1 in A Minor, op. 77, and it was brilliantly played by Vadim Repin. This dense and thorny work was written in the years immediately preceding Stalin’s death, but the composer had put the music away to await a more hospitable artistic climate. That climate seemed to have its beginning just after Stalin’s passing in 1953, so Shostakovich brought the Concerto out of storage and showed it to David Oistrakh, who suggested a few changes before he and Yevgeny Mravinsky and the Leningrad Philharmonic gave the music’s premiere on October 29, 1955 in the Orchestra’s namesake city.
Repin would seem an ideal violinist for this unusual four-movement concerto, betraying only a momentary intonation problem or two in the concerto’s opening. Otherwise, no hurdles of technique or interpretive decisions impeded his reading. His playing of the long and demanding cadenza, which joins the ending of the Concerto’s third movement Passacaglia with its Burlesca finale, was impressively secure and musically riveting. All in all, this was a performance of top-drawer status, with the LPO and Jurowski offering an involved and finely honed accompaniment
I mentioned earlier that this is an “unusual” concerto, and that characterization is not exclusively tied to its four-movement structure. The music, utterly bleak at its beginning and almost giddily rambunctious at its close, is a real journey from darkness to light, though the light achieved in the end harbors an almost artificial glare within its brilliance. I was reminded of two Shostakovich symphonies that follow similar paths – No. 6, a three-movement work with its lengthy and tragic Largo first movement followed by a seemingly light-hearted Scherzo and rollicking finale, and No. 10, written in the same year as the Violin Concerto. It too begins in a dark and brooding fashion and ends with a manic though somewhat strained Allegro. This pattern lends itself to speculation that it reflects the dark political situation in the Soviet Union at the time these pieces were written. I’ll not “go there,” but it IS interesting to find this pattern occurring frequently in this composer’s music.
While Repin’s playing was wonderful, I found Jurowski’s accompaniment equally compelling. My in-concert notes commended his expert marshaling of the first movement’s long, uninterrupted and singing violin line, his clear and readable conducting gestures, and the transparent and open orchestral textures he achieved even when the music was heavily and densely scored. His involvement and control were total and commanding, and the LPO’s playing involved and spot-on.
The concert’s second and final offering was Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 in C Minor, op. 67. I need hardly mention that any conductor who programs this (some would say overly) familiar symphony really ought to bring a compelling illumination of this score to the audience lest the performance fall into a boring and all-too-familiar routine. Jurowski and his very talented orchestra more often than not achieved this goal. The playing was uniform and excellent, and the orchestra exhibited wind, brass, string and tympani playing of the highest and well-integrated order. In a welcome nod to period authenticity Jurowski opted to have early trumpets (Purcell called them “long trumpets”) and early-style timpani play along with the otherwise modern instruments. In a pre-concert interview Jurowski said that he would countenance the use of vibrato only in particular passages where its employment might be used as an emotional nuance. Otherwise, the string and wind playing would be largely vibrato-free. I found the results bracing and appropriate, and not at all artificial sounding.
In interpretation, Jurowski brought interesting and convincing ideas of phrasing and carefully honed shading of dynamics. His pace in all four movements was fleet and focused. I recall especially his felicitous treatment of the second movement’s beautiful cantabile melody, taking it as an uninterrupted long-arched phrase rather than the more commonly heard idea of dividing it into segments. The cello and bass sections were particularly brilliant and beautifully of one mind and sound in their rapid passagework at the center of the Scherzo movement. Jurowski’s planning and balancing of the extraordinary transition between the Scherzo and the Allegro finale was dramatic and effective, and that finale blazed forth in brilliant yet controlled glory. Throughout the symphony the playing of timpanist Simon Carrington was nuanced and convincingly impelling when asked for. Jurowski rightly recognized him during the ovation after the music’s conclusion.
It was a pleasure to hear this excellent orchestra in Symphony Hall, thanks to the Boston Celebrity Series, yet I could not help remembering that years ago Boston was graced by many more visits by the world’s great orchestras. While it’s gratifying to note that there are more excellent local orchestras playing at a very high level than was the case several years ago, it’s a shame that one needed to travel to New York this year to hear, for instance, the Vienna Philharmonic, The Berlin Philharmonic, the Concertgebouw, The Cleveland, the L.A. Philharmonic etc. etc. But thank you, Celebrity Series, for doing what you can in today’s expensive world.
So, what about Jurowski? Is he of the stuff the BSO is seeking? He was reportedly very impressive in his BSO guest appearances with the huge Shostakovich Symphony No. 4, though what I heard on-line of one of those wasn’t of the shattering impact of Rozhdesvensky’s several years ago. However, I was impressed by what I saw and heard on Friday. He is an intense and dramatic conductor, and his interpretations were well thought and expertly communicated to his players. His personal rapport with them was clearly evident. Whether he has the breadth and depth our BSO deserves isn’t yet clear. Having said that, this appearance with the London Philharmonic was a concert of deep appeal and excellent execution. I’d like to see more of Jurowski. What, for instance, would he bring to Debussy, Schoenberg, Haydn, Nielsen, Mozart, Mahler, Verdi?
The BSO Music Director drama continues…