CONCERT REVIEW | Mozart & Bruckner | London Philharmonic Orchestra/Goode & Jurowski | RFH, London | "I was far from moved with Jurowski’s awkward handling of chorale- and Ländler-based ideas, the dichotomy of the sacred and profane so integral in Bruckner’s musical personality"

United Kingdom: London Philharmonic Orchestra, Richard Goode (Piano), & Vladimir Jurowski (Conductor). Reviewed at Royal Festival Hall, London on 30 September 2017.

Mozart, Piano Concerto No.20 in D minor, K466
Bruckner, Symphony No.5 in B flat (1878 version)

Vladimir Jurowski, (c) Matthias Creutziger

However bombast the title of the evening’s concert ‘Grandeur out of darkness. Belief and Beyond Belief: Judgement’ may sound, it did little harm in underscoring the monumental nature of Bruckner’s 5th symphony in B-flat major.

Jurowski’s prolonged pause between the initial applause and the start of the symphony indicated a sense of occasion, yet also anticipated the vast blocks of pauses predominating the first movement. Fittingly, the direction indicated grandeur, with the pizzicatos reverentially weightful supported by a troop of ten double basses, the unrushed tempo letting the notes unfold in layered waves, and with silences prominently carved out between tuttis. The strings were full-bodied, the brass and percussion authoritative, yet the highlight were the woodwinds, with the flute tone especially delightful in its piercing warmth. Although the chorale theme at the end of the development could have been taken with more breadth, the controlled coda left a sense that great things were to come.

Yet the pulse of the oboe-driven first theme of the Adagio was rather fast to signify the promised profundity, even though the blend between the brass and strings was immaculately tender. Where Jurowski followed Bruckner’s call to slow down (Beinahe Melodie im gleichen Rhythmus wie im Allabreve Takte, jedoch langsamer) the third appearance of the first theme - the emotional core of the movement - the gear-changing deceleration felt it could have had more nuance. This newfound tempo was directly inherited to the Scherzo, and given that the movement started with minimum break, the biting contrast this propulsive movement can bring was somewhat attenuated. If Jurowski’s perseverance with a slow tempo throughout the Scherzo accentuated monolithic strength, such reading certainly downplayed the alteration between athleticism and Ländler-derived pastoralism.

Where the idyllic themes from the Scherzo failed to be invigorated in their heaviness, the Ländler-driven second thematic group of the finale was underexplored of its rustic qualities due to its surprising briskness. Swift too was the following chorale theme; the religious soil from which the theme was borne felt secularised. While some conductors slow down the coda in attempt to exploit the expansive depth of the work’s apotheosis, Jurowski had little appetite for over-dramatisation, and concluded the work with clear-eyed fervour. In the last silence released by the symphony following the lofty coda, it was clear that all that came before was held together in organic unity, and that it could not have been otherwise.

Given LPO’s recent success of this symphony with the late Skrowaczewski (LPO0090), the task of Jurowski to pull off a convincing rendition of this work was no simple feat. No doubt, the evening’s performance lacked the venerable qualities Skrowaczewski conjured, and I was far from moved with Jurowski’s awkward handling of chorale- and Ländler-based ideas, the dichotomy of the sacred and profane so integral in Bruckner’s musical personality. Nevertheless, Jurowski’s youthful rendition was convincing in its characterful enthusiasm.

If anything, Jurowski’s recent ventures into Bruckner’s 1st to 4th symphonies, along with tonight’s 5th, provide a promising outlook in the Bruckner conducting tradition, as he joins the generation of conductors of the likes of Harding, Nelsons and Nézet-Séguin who demonstrate that Bruckner’s symphonies are no longer a club exclusive to the native Austro-Germans or the experienced.

[The article was first published on the Bruckner Journal]

Young-Jin Hur