LPO/Jurowski review – war poetry Hollywood-style amid a sea of poppies

Royal Festival Hall, London
This short, left-field remembrance concert sidestepped cliche with Magnus Lindberg, Stravinsky and Janáček, but delivered little emotional heft

Amid the many concerts and installations marking the centenary of the armistice signed on 11 November 1918, the London Philharmonic Orchestra’s contribution to the ritual of remembrance appeared self-consciously left-field. Only the sea of poppies worn by performers offered a connection to more familiar symbolism.

The programme opened with Debussy’s Berceuse Héroïque, written in late 1914 and dedicated to the king of Belgium. Under its principal conductor, Vladimir Jurowski, the LPO made much of the piece’s play of warmth and coolness, with lucid solo lines rising from its sparse, icy ground. Thereafter, even the elegiac tone conventional in such events dissipated.

Magnus Lindberg’s new 14-18 NOW commission Triumf Att Finnas Till (Triumph to Exist) for chorus and orchestra sets war poetry, but not as we know it. His texts were written by the Finnish poet Edith Södergran in 1916, each depicting an atmosphere of almost exhilarating chaos and existential challenge (“Triumph to live, triumph to breathe, triumph to exist!” exhorts the title poem). There are striking moments: deep artillery thuds of bass drum and double bass; violins suspended on a single chord as if time has stopped. But elsewhere, a Hollywood soundtrack seemed to be trying to escape – Lindberg’s accommodation of the chorus (the London Philharmonic Choir on energetic form) leading him disconcertingly close to the tonal heroics of Hans Zimmer.

A far cry, then, from the harsh, nervy coldness of Stravinsky’s Requiem Canticles (written in 1966, halfway between 1914 and 2018), which here were tightly – almost obsessively – marshalled by Jurowski, with effective contributions from bass Maxim Mikhailov and Angharad Lyddon’s midnight-black velvet mezzo.

Finally, there was Janáček’s cantata The Eternal Gospel, completed shortly before the outbreak of war in 1914 – in which a maxi-LPO wove unbroken skeins of sound and Jurowski drove to vast, tub-thumping climaxes, with generously lyrical contributions from soprano Andrea Danková and hard-edged tenor machismo from Vsevolod Grivnov.

These were all fine performances. But the disparate, ultra-short programme, which sidestepped many cliches of remembrance, also lost much of its all-important emotional power.

Contributor

Flora Willson

The GuardianTramp

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