London Philharmonic/Vladimir Jurowski

Wagner: Parsifal Prelude; Berg: Three Pieces; Mahler: Das Klagende Lied

Royal Festival Hall, 19 September 2007 3.5 stars

LPO/Vladimir Jurowski concert review (credit: Sheila Rock)

The 75th Anniversary season of the London Philharmonic Orchestra was opened in style last night by Vladimir Jurowski, leading his first concert as the LPO's new Principal Conductor. Jurowski is, of course, no stranger to the orchestra, having been Principal Guest Conductor since 2003 and Music Director of Glyndebourne Festival Opera since 2001, where the LPO performs every summer.

The benefits of having thus established a relationship with the orchestra are apparent; indeed, in conversation with Anthony Burton in a pre-concert talk, Jurowski admitted that taking on the role of Principal Conductor feels like a 'natural continuation' for him, and one which essentially allows him to explore a wider repertoire with the players.

At first glance, the choice of the evening's programme - Wagner, Berg and Mahler - may not seem to expand the orchestra's involvement with Austro-Germanic repertoire per se, but the selection of pieces were rather more daring than first impressions would have one believe. It was, however, a well-thought-out and cohesive programme.

The concert opened with Wagner's Parsifal Prelude, performed here also with the concert ending. Jurowski noted Wagner's imposing status as grandfather, predecessor and founder of the new twentieth-century music, but chose Parsifal rather than the more obvious Tristan in the belief that it is this more conservative Wagner that brought about the music of Debussy and Berg. If the orchestra was rather tentative through the first half of the piece, it seemed to be due to unfamiliarity with the newly refurbished hall and acoustic, rather than with Jurowski, and eventually the music unfolded with beautifully refined elegance, with strings and woodwind colours blending well.

Berg's Three Pieces for Orchestra, Op.6, took the place of a concerto, effectively a concerto for orchestra with its densely complex and demanding writing. Written between 1912 and 1914, the horrors of First-World-War evidently cast dark shadows over the three brief movements, in particular the final Marsch, where timpani recall the war-like blows of Mahler's Sixth Symphony. The orchestra executed a remarkable performance, and Jurowski blossomed through the piece, coming into his own by the final movement. If the level of trust and empathy between ensemble and conductor is an indicator of things to come, the seventy-fifth anniversary season should certainly be one of note.

Mahler's Das Klagende Lied, his so-called Opus 1, followed the interval. Performing the work in its complete and original form, a 'more daring and revolutionary' version according to Jurowski, the orchestra were joined by five soloists, soprano Marisol Montalvo, mezzo-soprano Hedwig Fassbender, tenor Michael Hendrick, baritone Anthony Michaels-Moore and an impressive boy treble performance from Dominic Fernandes, who carried off a huge swooping range. Whilst the soprano appeared in a stunning gown, it was unfortunately not matched by vocal prowess; her vocals too thin and projection too weak to cope with the demands of a Mahlerian orchestral accompaniment. Indeed with the exception of the treble and the briefly-used baritone, the soloists let down an otherwise commendable performance by the LPO, the London Phiharmonic Choir and members of the Glyndebourne Chorus. Not having conducted Mahler until this year - believing Sollertinsky's reading of Mahler's symphonic oeuvre as a 'metasymphony', Jurowski feels he can only conduct the symphonies in order, and Klagende is a necessary starting point - the performance was far from being overly academic. On the contrary, it was clear that Jurowski felt a deep involvement with the emotional trajectory of the work, right through to its desolate ending.

This was certainly a solid, if not exhilarating performance to begin the season; one can only hope that as the orchestra and conductor adjust to their new surroundings, the potential for a awe-inspiring collaboration is realised soon.

By Úna-Frances Clarke