It is often interesting to hear performers one knows well in a different setting, and this concert was a case in point for me. The London Philharmonic Orchestra have performed often in Eastbourne since the 1930s and at the Congress Theatre for the past seventeen seasons, but this was my first visit to the venue. Based on this concert, I am hopeful that it will not be my last. The reading of Brahms’ Tragic Overture allowed ample opportunity to assess the acoustic, finding that it favoured a bright violin timbre, whilst allowing the lower strings to be resonant. Only occasionally did it sound a little boxy, but in a venue that is typical of 1970s theatre design my only thought was to hypothesise if putting the brass and timpani on a raised staging would have helped their excellently played contributions sound slightly less recessed within the overall sound spectrum. Vladimir Jurowski led an impressive performance that was full of dramatic insight and keen accentuation. The surging initial material was drawn with broody intent, to effectively contrast with the more genial warmth of later thematic ideas. The final pages found the seething tumult pared back with impressive control before the imposing closing tutti rang forth.
Alexandra Silocea, making her debut with the London Philharmonic, was the soloist in Mozart’s Piano Concerto no. 17 in G major. In recent seasons she has attracted considerable acclaim for a recording of Prokofiev’s sonatas and as a recitalist, all of which mark her as an artist to watch out for. Employing an orchestra of reduced size, the scene was set for a reading of some intimacy. The opening Allegro was introduced by the orchestra cleanly and crisply, aided somewhat by the stage layout that had the strings grouped on the left and winds and horns to stage right. From the start Silocea articulated the piano part with sensitivity that maintained an acutely tasteful sense of tone and scale. Oftentimes, such as in the cadenza, her left-hand touch was particularly notable as it gracefully underlined the melodic material that was imparted with delightful ease by her right hand. The two elements were unified in no small part by good judgement when it came to pedalling.
The transition of mood and feeling was effortlessly accomplished and the Andante second movement took on a sense of the autumnal that also had much in the way of refined introspection about it. The performance as a whole, though, also caught facets of bright bravura and fragility in the dialogue that naturally developed between soloist and oboe, bassoon and flute section leaders. The overall feeling of bonhomie continued into the Allegretto finale. Constructed as a set of five variations upon a march-like theme, an entirely unforced sense of growth and contrast was encouraged by Jurowski, who here allowed strings and winds to hold almost equal sway. Throughout it all, Alexandra Silocea again proved her Mozartian credentials with phrasing of supreme elegance.
Bruckner’s early symphonies are not heard that often in concert; that is, relative to performances of the later symphonies at least – and more is the pity. What’s more, I would hazard a guess that this was the first occasion at which the Eastbourne public has had to hear any Bruckner symphony for many a year. How would it be received?
The opening Allegro immediately announced Jurowski’s determination to advocate the work. Even if the dotted rhythms had a somewhat impetuous feel to them initially, the movement was sturdily constructed in terms of tone. Layers of sound were impressively built up, for example, with cellos underlining the horn line. Throughout, it should be said, the brass could have had greater impact to make this a near ideal performance. It lacked nothing in terms of driving power, dynamic growth or attention to the density of musical construction that Bruckner masterfully constructs from his chosen material.
Restlessness took hold in the initial section of the slow movement, with apparently disconnected ideas presented. The contrasting middle section – a wonderfully judged Andante – registered its impact fully in the burnished tone of the strings, before the earlier Adagio material was reprised with some energy. The Scherzo was a rather powerful affair in Jurowski’s conception and it was forthrightly played without becoming overblown, as might had been the case were the tempo not so tightly controlled. The middle-section trio provided welcome elegance prior to a closing return to the dramatic fray. All of which effectively prefaced the solemn yet moving final movement, whose dark soundworld was replete with the requisite ebb and flow in the overall dynamic. As a renaissance architect might have done, Vladimir Jurowski oversaw the gradual realisation of a cathedral of sound that was of truly grand magnificence. The audience responded extremely enthusiastically, proving that challenging repertoire does not only merit being played to major-venue audiences.