Thursday, August 12, 2021, Royal Albert Hall, London
Broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 from 7.30 p.m.
With this enticingly programmed concert, Vladimir Jurowski stepped down as the LPO’s Chief Conductor (he’s off to Bavarian State Opera while remaining with Berlin Radio, and his successor in London is Edward Gardner). VJ signed off with Paul Hindemith’s Symphony Mathis der Maler, which corresponds musically with his eponymous opera, an affront to the Nazis, the composer branded by them as a “degenerate”.
Jurowski and the LPO gave a magnificent account of this spiritual and dramatic Symphony, painterly music, literally so after the artistry of Matthias Grünewald, whether of angels or of demons. Such gravitas was evident from the off and sustained through to the tumultuous final movement, the performers finely balancing descriptions, varying emotions, profound thoughts, theatre, and contrapuntal concerns. The broad brassy conclusion was as moving as it was uplifting.
Preceding the Hindemith was the UK premiere of Fourteen Canons, arranged from bass lines associated with J. S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations by Friedrich Goldmann (1941-2009). Goldmann’s scoring is for chamber ensemble, including harpsichord, relaying enjoyable music of solemnity and wit, in the manner of Stravinsky’s Baroque updates (such as Vom Himmel hoch or his Gesualdo-inspired Monumentum) if without quite reaching such genius, despite the LPO members’ well-actioned reading.
Opening this Prom, Stravinsky’s Jeu de cartes (1937, choreography by George Balanchine). Drily witty and rhythmically pulsating music, this was a closely observed and vividly characterised account of a well-dealt card game, the LPO on top form, dancing unanimously and with brilliant solo playing (plenty of pirouettes). The quotation from Rossini’s Barber of Seville is clear enough, but did I detect a snippet from Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf?
Following the Stravinsky, William Walton’s 1956 Cello Concerto, written for Piatigorsky and premiered early the following year in Boston, Charles Munch conducting. The languorous if gently pulsed opening movement aches with sun-going-down romance, enlivened by warm Mediterranean breezes. Steven Isserlis dug deep into his instrument for some impassioned moments amid the intimate ones, following which the bustling and tricky second brought out all his dexterity and determination, deftly accompanied. The Finale is the longest movement, with unaccompanied passages for the cellist and with the orchestra given its own ‘solo’ moment, a seemingly sectional structure that hung together well here, Isserlis ruminating with intent, the LPO shadowing and shimmering the music to its reminiscing fade-out. For an encore, Isserlis offered some snazzy jazzy pizzicatos by a Georgian composer whose name I didn’t catch.
To end the evening (in fact) John Gilhooly presented Vladimir Jurowski with the Royal Philharmonic Society’s Gold Medal.