Prom 64: LPO/Jurowski – review

Royal Albert Hall, London
Vladimir Jurowski didn't quite do justice to Bantock, Sibelius and Strauss here, but Prokofiev's Third Piano Concerto was wonderful

Among the principal eccentricities of this year's Proms schedule, the Granville Bantock retrospective continued with The Witch of Atlas, which opened Vladimir Jurowski's concert with the London Philharmonic, a programme of turn-of-the-20th-century tone poems, with Prokofiev's modernist Third Piano Concerto thrown in for contrast.

Bantock takes his cue from Shelley's idealistic 1820 poem about a North African sorceress whose powers permit her intervention in "the strife which stirs the liquid surface of man's life". His piece, however, is more about the Witch's seductive beauty than Shelley's utopian vision. A debt to Tristan und Isolde is apparent in the chromatic four-note motif that unfolds repetitively as it progresses. But Bantock's harmonic safety transforms obsessive Wagnerian passion into Edwardian erotic discretion. The performance's charm and elegance couldn't quite disguise the music's inherent coyness.

Certainly it palls when placed alongside Sibelius's Pohjola's Daughter and Strauss's Also Sprach Zarathustra. Both rank among the greatest of tone poems, though neither found Jurowski at his best. Pohjola's Daughter felt controlled, moulded and occasionally lacking in tension, when it should flow with organic seamlessness. Jurowski's approach to Strauss's still-provocative response to Nietzsche, meanwhile, was much too cool: a clean, clear examination of texture and structure, but notably lacking in emotive edge. There was some majestic playing, though the organist at one point let fly a massive un-scored chord for some reason.

The Prokofiev, however, was striking and very unusual. Pianist Anika Vavic's dexterous but soft-grained playing, wonderfully supple and beautifully nuanced, was the absolute antithesis of the virtuoso aggression we hear in most performances of the work. Jurowski conducted with infinite grace and a nice line in knowing irony. It more than made up for the faults elsewhere. Very fine.

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Tim Ashley

The GuardianTramp

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