Debussy, Tchaikovsky and Lutosławski at the RFH

Yesterday evening's concert at the Royal Festival Hall was given by the London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Jukka-Pekka Saraste: it began with Debussy's La Mer. Of course this is a very familiar work and I have a couple of recordings of it - but there is always something to be gained by hearing a live performance. Even the best recordings can't fully capture all the detail of Debussy's lush scoring, and the orchestra gave an involving and lyrical performance.

in the second item, Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto, the soloist was Sergey Khachatryan. At 23 he has already become internationally recognised, and demonstrated the ability to bring out the work's lyricism while still maintaining a spectacular control of the complex and fast passages. All too many violinists blur the detail of this work, but apart from a couple of very minor bowing fluffs - barely noticeable, even in this age when recordings have led us to expect note-perfect performances - every note was clearly articulated. For my taste the last movement was a little too fast, but his technique prevented it from turning into a scramble.

The second half of the concert consisted of the Polish composer Witold Lutosławski's Concerto for Orchestra. In previous posts I've mentioned the problems Russian composers had with the half-witted musical censorship of Stalin's government: the Polish government in the immediate post-war period was also communist and saw no reason why it should be left out. Lutosławski was already out of favour for 'modernism' when he wrote this Concerto in the period between 1950 and 1954: he had been surviving by writing acceptable arrangements of folk music, theatre music and so on, and this concerto, though containing some modern techniques, was still tailored to fit within a politically acceptable style. Later in his career he was able to develop his personal style relatively unhindered, and he always considered this work to be minor, though it became one of his most popular.

It's certainly a dazzling display of orchestral technique, dramatic, complexly scored and with a wide range of tone colours: there are hints of the Stravinsky of Fireworks, and perhaps of Bartok (though less stark) and Martinu (though less lush): it's certainly exciting to listen to. However I did feel that there was no real substance to it. When I was young and considering spending my limited pocket money on gramophone records, we would consider 'will it wear' - meaning, stand up to repeated listening. While I enjoyed the work, I don't think it would 'wear'.

The work obviously demands considerable precision on the part of the conductor and orchestra to prevent it becoming a blurred mess: they acquitted themselves magnificently.

Posted: Thu - February 21, 2008 at 09:44 AM by Roger Wilmut          



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Published On: Mar 11, 2016 05:00 PM