Even amongst a season featuring an impressive array of commissions and premières by Magnus Lindberg, Harrison Birtwistle, James Horner, Colin Matthews and Benjamin Wallfisch, Julian Anderson's newest work stands out as one of the most exciting events in the London Philharmonic Orchestra's 2014-2015 programme. Formerly the ensemble's composer-in-residence (between 2010 and 2014), the partnership produced a number of high-class works and recordings. This latest work proved once again Anderson's mastery of the orchestral medium, but fell flat in other aspects.

Carolin Widmann © Marco Borggreve
Carolin Widmann
© Marco Borggreve

A 'poem' for violin and orchestra by Julian Anderson, In lieblicher Blaue was inspired by a poem of the same name by Friedrich Hölderlin. The work bears a loose relationship to the text itself, and is more directly influenced by the idea of the poet lost in contemplation. Divisible into two broad sections, the work unfolds as much a contemplation would: ideas are developed before changing direction, as if following a particular tangent of thought. The theatrical element of the relationship between violin and orchestra was the least successful. The first entry is played from offstage, before the performer takes their place at the side of the stage, as if separated. After moving to the standard soloist's position, the performer turns into the orchestra for the final part of the work. However, this movement added little to the work; the musical dimension would have been quite sufficient.

Anderson's strengths lie in his optimistic, outward-looking musical language and his mastery of the orchestra. His orchestration was just as evocative as ever: textures melted into one another almost imperceptibly and unexpected sonic effects abounded. The double bass harmonics and Widmann's substitution of a pencil for her bow were particularly memorable (although the latter was barely audible and certainly superfluous). Despite the vividness of the orchestral colours used, the spacing of the instruments always creates the impression of a certain economy of resources. The LPO's bright sound suited the clarity of Anderson's writing, bringing out both the delicate and the bold within the work.

The opening section of the work unfolds in a series of episodes, building towards a clangorous climax of bell-like sounds. After returning to the gestures of the opening, the work changes direction, exploring scherzo-like material before rejecting it for melodic contemplation. This idyll is gradually dissembled as threatening elements break through: cataclysmic orchestral interruptions disturb the violin's reverie, as it retreats into itself and is ultimately left suspended.

The LPO's performance was colourful and evocative, with vivid contributions from a number of soloists. Unfortunately, Carolin Widmann's playing was often lost amongst the thick orchestral textures. Given the nature of her role in the piece, she could have taken more liberties with her interpretation. This was perhaps not helped by Vladimir Jurowski's firm beat, with little room for freedom.

Ravel described Daphnis et Chloé as a 'symphonie choréographique', but this performance was rather more theatrical than symphonic. Jurowski's pacing was amiss, drawing too many fortissimo peaks from the orchestra and compromising the overall structure. Opting for bold over subtle meant that Ravel's intricately crafted textures were not exploited to their fullest effect: a warmer, softer sound would have been preferable. Despite some outstanding orchestral performances (most notably Juliette Bausor, guest principal flute), woodwind intonation was often variable. Overall, the interpretation left much to be desired: atmosphere was privileged over musical detail. While Jurowski and the LPO painted the moods of the work in vivid colours, more attention to the intricacies of Ravel's writing would have transformed the performance.

***11