London Philharmonic, Jurowski, Fleisher deliver superb music-making at Strathmore
For a brief moment, I felt a little guilty about missing the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's performance last night at the Meyerhoff in order to catch the London Philharmonic Orchestra at Strathmore. But I quickly spotted some BSO staffers playing hooky, too, so those qualms evaporated in a flash. Besides, the BSO's program will be repeated; the LPO's visit to the region (another valuable presentation by the Washington Performing Arts Society) was confined to this single appearance.
It has been quite a while since I heard the esteemed ensemble, and I had yet to experience its buzz-producing principal conductor, Moscow-born Vladimir Jurowski. Both left me deeply impressed.
Let's start with the sound of the LPO -- lush, but never thick, and exceptionally refined. I was quite taken with how smoothly and tightly entrances were made, each section cohesively articulating and adding equally to the big aural picture. The strings had a silken tone (the basses -- lined single-file along one side wall, a practice the BSO might want to explore -- sounded unusually rich and dark); the woodwinds glowed; the brass had power that never coarsened. It was fun just soaking up all the orchestral color emanating from the stage, but there was much more than that to savor.
Jurowski, tall and thin with a long mane of black hair (he probably could have gotten a supporting role in Twilight), goes against the podium norm, conducting with an economy of means and few leaps or swirls. His precise gestures obviously communicate with clarity and feeling to his LPO players.
Jurowski's firm command served him well throughout the demanding program, starting with the Adagio from Mahler's Symphony No. 10 (the only movement fully completed before the composer's death). Although I would have liked even more whomp when the music reached the amazing passage of screaming dissonance toward the end, everything else registered in a thoroughly convincing and involving fashion as the conductor drew out one telling detail after another. The final moments, when Mahler seems to let go of all earthly cares, were molded with particularly sensitivity.
After an awfully long seating change, a reduced complement of players took their places for ...
The evening closed with an imaginative pairing of Ligeti's Atmospheres and Strauss' Also sprach Zarathustra, linked together with no break. This nod to the works' use in 2001 wasn't some cheap marketing idea. You didn't even need to have any memory of that iconic film (personally, I always thought it was way over-praised -- perhaps because I never could make heads or tails of it). The diffuse clusters of sound in the time-stopping Ligeti score conjured up a kind of ancient, unfathomable cosmic space that slowly dissolved into nothing more than the breaths of brass players blowing note-lessly through the instruments, before the first rumbles of the Strauss piece signaled the approaching sun. Cool.
The LPO responded firmly to Jurowski's sure, nuanced direction, producing Ligeti's painstakingly crafted tone clusters deftly and digging into Zarathustra with a vivid spirit.
Quite a night.
BALTIMORE SUN FILE PHOTOS