LPO/Jurowski/Perianes review – wit, colour and fire

Royal Festival Hall, London
In a programme exploring the influence of the exotic, pianist Javier Perianes shone in Saint-Saëns, Jurowksi and the PO brought drama and poise to works by Dukas, Debussy and Honegger

Vladimir Jurowski’s programme with the London Philharmonic explored the influence of the exotic on composers around the turn of the 20th century. The centrepiece, and the evening’s high point, was Saint-Saëns’s Fifth Piano Concerto, inspired by a trip down the Nile in 1896 and nicknamed “The Egyptian”, though the score, which is among Saint-Saëns’ finest, also glances at Spain and embraces Javanese gamelan music, which the composer heard at the Paris Exposition of 1889.

The soloist was the Spaniard Javier Perianes, a player of great elegance and understated flamboyance, in many ways the work’s ideal interpreter. Limpidity gave way to weight in the gathering drama of the first movement. The travelogue proper starts in the Andante, with its Nile boatman’s song, dissonant gamelan figurations, tolling gongs and Hispanic flourishes, all of which Perianes negotiated with exquisite grace and a wonderful lightness of touch. The finale, expressing “the joy of a sea crossing” according to Saint-Saëns, was all elation and dexterous wit.

There were pleasures elsewhere, too. Jurowski opened with La Péri, Dukas’s 1912 poème dansé, full-on in its swaying lilt and sensual colours. Debussy’s Images had plenty of poise, languor and fire, the translucent textures of Ibéria nicely judged. Pacific 231, Honegger’s machine-age celebration of locomotion and steam, was bracing in its rawness and immediacy: nowadays we think of it as one of the iconic works of modernism, but it, too, was deemed “exotic”, not to say outrageous, at its premiere in 1924.

Contributor

Tim Ashley

The GuardianTramp

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