Jurowski returns to conduct the Philadelphians

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Jurowski returns to conduct the Philadelphians

Post by Ricordanza » Sun Oct 26, 2014 2:57 pm

Thursday night’s Philadelphia Orchestra program was a study in contrasts: three widely varied works, with three different ensembles of musicians on stage. But each piece delivered engaging music, and the other common factor was the excellent direction of guest conductor Vladimir Jurowski. At one time widely considered a prime contender for music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra, Jurowski remains based in Europe as principal conductor of the London Philharmonic. Nevertheless, he is a welcome guest conductor and his appearances here are eagerly anticipated.

The program began with a composer and a work never before heard in Philadelphia Orchestra concerts, British composer Julian Anderson’s The Stations of the Sun. This 1998 work is said to be inspired by the seasons, although to my ears, only the first part is recognizably related to the Spring. It’s a complex work, sometimes ferociously so, with some passages having different sections of the orchestra playing at slightly different rhythms, creating a feeling of tension and uneasiness. It’s also a work for a full size orchestra, with a particularly large array of percussion instruments—31 plus the tympani. But all these facts and figures don’t convey in a satisfactory fashion the impact of the piece—that the complexity is never dense, and the musical content is both arresting and appealing, especially when superbly played—or should I say navigated—by the Philadelphians under Jurowski’s expert direction.

From the complex world of Anderson’s music, we next heard the serene and elegant creation by the 19-year-old Mozart, his Violin Concerto No. 4, K. 218. For this work, Jurowski had reduced the orchestra to true chamber-sized proportions, with only about 30 players on stage, and with no podium for himself. Alina Ibragimova, a young Russian-born violinist, was the appealing soloist in this work. The music and the performance had all that we look for in early Mozart, purity, balance, and sweetness without overbearing sentimentality.

After intermission came the familiar but always welcome tone poem by Richard Strauss, Also Sprach (Thus Spoke) Zarathustra. The opening sequence, Dawn, has achieved universal recognition beyond the world of classical music fans thanks to its use by Stanley Kubrick in the film, 2001: A Space Odyssey. But for those of us who have been exposed to the rest of this mighty work, it is indeed an odyssey into the realm of the great possibilities of orchestral music. Strauss uses an unusually large orchestra (for example, the scoring includes six horns, two tubas, two harps, and organ), and Jurowski employed a distinct arrangement of these massive orchestral forces on the Verizon Hall stage: the first and second violins were split to his left and right, respectively, the basses were arrayed on the back riser behind the winds and brass, while the percussion was at his far left. From my seat on the First Tier, I could appreciate this effect both aurally and visually. I could also see as well as hear how Strauss, the master orchestrator, at times divided the various string sections into further sub-sections to produce an even more varied texture in this music. Concertmaster David Kim’s solos were, as we have come to expect, finely rendered. Again, as in describing the first piece, it seems that I have delved into more detail about the logistics than the music, but in the end, the overall impression was a well-crafted, expressive and intense performance of this orchestral showpiece.

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