Tuesday, February 07, 2006

CONCERT REVIEW: Philharmonia/Jarvi

Hmmm. Get up on the wrong side of the bed, did we? Here's a rather snarky review by Andrew Clements from today's issue of The [U.K.] Guardian:
Noēsis, Erkki-Sven Tüür's new concerto for violin and clarinet, is a response to a very particular compositional challenge. The violinist Isabelle Van Keulen, who gave the first performances of Tüür's Violin Concerto in 1999, asked him for a work she could tour with her husband, clarinettist Michael Collins (the concerto repertory isn't exactly over-endowed with pieces for that particular instrumental pairing).

Tüür's work follows a traditional fast-slow-fast scheme, but overlaid on that is a process of thematic evolution in which the two instruments, heard playing entirely different kinds of music at the start of the concerto, gradually move towards each other, while the terraced textures of the brass-heavy orchestral writing constantly echo and enhance details of the solo parts. The writing for the clarinet tends to be explosive and extrovert, while that for the violin is more thoughtful and lyrical. Both were vividly presented by Van Keulen and Collins, though separating out their solo lines from the tumult around them was often difficult, and the final impression left by Noēsis was cluttered.

Perhaps a conductor more prepared than Paavo Järvi to trust the composer's own instincts and to allow orchestral textures to balance themselves might have enabled the two solo instruments to stand out in sharper relief. But the whole programme, despite consistently superb playing by the Philharmonia, seemed over-conducted, so that none of the performances could flow naturally or easily. While, thanks to the close-up acoustic of the Queen Elizabeth Hall, it was fascinating to hear all the inner workings of Sibelius's Tapiola, Järvi always seemed to be pushing the performance along instead of allowing it to develop organically. And in Rachmaninov's Second Symphony, too, the gorgeous sonic effects seemed just a bit breathless.

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