Music from an anxious age

At first sight the programme of yesterday evening's concert at the Royal Festival Hall was a mixed bag of unrelated items:

Debussy: Jeux
Stravinsky: Violin Concerto; Scherzo Fantastique
Rachmaninov: Symphonic Dances

Unusually, the concert was prefaced by a fifteen minute talk by the conductor, Vladimir Jurowski, explaining the reasoning and links behind the pieces.

Jeux was premiered in May 1913, only a fortnight before Stravisnky's ground-breaking Rite of Spring, and has tended to be overshadowed by that in terms of musical innovation: but although less obviously startling than the Rite (with its simultaneously different key signatures and tempos, and its complex dissonances) Jeux develops Debussy's harmonic experimentation further than ever before: lush, melodic but extremely detailed and complex, it was also the score for the first ballet ever to be staged in a modern setting as a young man and two girls interact in a park: a tennis ball opens and concludes the action.

Stravinsky's Violin Concerto of 1931 carries many of his trademarks - staccato brass chords and tentative melodic phrases - and has the tension of a coiled spring throughout. Though not a violinist himself, Stravinsky fashioned a demanding and original violin part, played here by Kolja Blacher with energy and the pinpoint precision the work needs, though possibly a little too much vibrato.

The second half began with one of Stravinsky's earliest works, the Scherzo Fantastique; a little masterpiece of orchestral colour owing much to Rimsky-Korsakov (Stravinsky's teacher) though somewhat stretching its thematic material: played, I thought, with a fraction less momentum than it needs.

No such comment, though about Rachmaninov's Symphonic Dances (1941), played by the London Philharmonic Orchestra with tremendous fire and energy. There is a tendency to play Rachmaninov with sentimentality, but wisely avoided in this performance: the work, though melodic and lushly orchestrated, is shot through with anxiety and even despair: Rachmaninov was dying at the time he composed it and disliked the new directions music was taking, away from the romantic (if slightly astringent) style he made his own. Death is on the mind of the last movement - it quotes from the medieval hymn Dies Irae (Day of Wrath - the most quoted phrase in the whole of music) - but it ends with passion and an exciting climax. A fine and involving performance.

Posted: Thu - November 13, 2008 at 09:41 AM by Roger Wilmut          



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Published On: Mar 11, 2016 05:00 PM