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Stravinsky, Lutoslawski, Wagner and Mozart.
Prom 45 :Royal Albert Hall 17 August 2006.

 


Stravinsky
Dumbarton Oaks

Lutoslawski Paroles tissées

Wagner Siegfried Idyll

Mozart Symphony No. 41 in C major, K551 'Jupiter'


Ian Bostridge tenor
City of London Sinfonia
Paul Daniel
conductor

 

The nightmare of any Festival Director is to have to find substitute artists at very short notice. Finding a singer can be hard enough but locating an orchestra and conductor is no enviable task. Such was Nicholas Kenyon forced to do when the Orchestra of St Luke's and Donald Runnicles found it impossible to travel from the USA given that current restrictions have grounded aircraft and paralysed airports.

 

One can imagine the frantic work that Paul Daniel and the City of London Sinfonia put in to mount this challenging programme unchanged. At its core the concert saw a gradual enlargement of scale take place, with three chamber sized-pieces by Stravinsky, Lutoslawski and Wagner forming the first half. Daniel's direct and idiomatic conducting was a model of pointed clarity throughout, imparting much confidence to the players along the way.

 

The Stravinsky saw the emphasis of wind parts over the strings in a reading that was fluid and neatly neo-baroque, but possessed of some irony too, particularly in the first movement. Urbane humour was also detectable in the bassoon line of the second movement, superbly played by Jonathan Price and David Miles. The rippling violin tone under the brightly projected flute part was also notable. Incisiveness of rhythm and swiftness of pace marked out much of the third movement, with the horn part providing much in the way of diverse colouring to proceedings. The imagination of elaboration Stravinsky brought to scoring the work's ending was seized upon with relish by Daniel as he plunged headlong into the intricacies and brought deft touches of finesse from across the orchestral body.

 

Lutoslawski's Paroles tissées is an intricate web of music formed by four tapestries that set poems by Chabrun, made all the harder for performers by the fact that it relies heavily on ad libitum orchestration. The first tapestry takes as its starting point a twelve note chord that is dissolved and reconstituted in various guises above which Bostridge almost declaimed the vocal part. The second tapestry was given its inspirational impetus by the tenor's opening phrases, with careful use of head voice, as an atmospheric combination of pizzicato strings, xylophone and piano made its presence felt.

 

The third tapestry – the longest of them all – gathered strength most effectively as its musical threads darted back and forth to create connections with the earlier ones. At times concern over dynamics or hitting the note, such is the wide vocal and expressive range required, took priority for Bostridge over matters of accent or linguistic accuracy. With its strangely shifting instrumental perspectives allied to a text imbued with images of death, memory and sorrow the whole experience proved not a little unsettling. The City of London Sinfonia 's string players in particular seemed to feel the strain at times; giving playing that was honest and forthright in tone. The fourth tapestry closed the work with a precisely placed vocal line over beguilingly sustained chords. In all, a notable achievement for Bostridge, whose tonal clarity lent itself well to Lutoslawski's writing. It was as great an achievement for the orchestra; after the concert I learnt from one of their members that they had only played it for the first time on the previous day.

 

The jump from Lutoslawski to Wagner might seem a large one, but in the case of the Siegfried Idyll it is not as large as one might think. Favouring a large-sized chamber orchestra rather than Wagner's original 15 players, Daniel exploited the possibilities to draw out sonorities the two composers have in common. There was no mistaking the romance of gesture behind Daniel's conducting, but he kept the performers mindful of scale, line and physical space. To profitable ends he found interest in the writing by juxtaposing the instrumental voices. The placing of split violins, with cellos and basses to the left, and somewhat recessed brass helped enormously in this regard, giving the reading the sense of intimacy that the work so needs. That Wagner and Cosima viewed the piece as a ‘secret treasure' is well known, but this cannot hide the mounting tides of emotion from making an impression when performed with such confidence as here.

 

Mozart's final symphony came post-interval, with a reading that, although not that distinctive in terms of tempo, was for the relatively large frame that Daniel built the music around. His was a dramatic interpretation, always tasteful and mindful of the smaller scale that is also central to Mozart's writing. The second and third movements showed the unforced qualities of sonority best with teased out wind textures proving highly enjoyable. The last movement's scurrilous ending perhaps showed a slight lack in tonal allure amongst the strings, the only small area of performance over which one might have wanted something plusher. Feeling for Mozart's writing, however, was never lacking.

 

The mix of disarming ease and quiet dedication that all concerned brought to their performances made this concert all the more impressive given the circumstances. Indeed, one is bound to ask, who needs jet-set orchestras when a home-grown ensemble can display such musicianship and dedication? Bravo, the City of London Sinfonia and Paul Daniel!

 

Evan Dickerson