In a pairing that felt a little 'first thought', the LPO premiered Alexander Raskatov's Green Mass, a rumination on our generation's destruction of our natural environment, alongside Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony. The Beethoven came first, and it didn't take a music genius to work out that the myriad percussion instruments that swamped the entire width of the Royal Festival Hall stage would serve no purpose until the second half. Their slightly ominous presence did, however, seem to hang over proceedings, even more so as Vladimir Jurowski had opted for a paired down, historically informed performance with an almost period-sized orchestra.

Vladimir Jurowski © Matthias Creutziger
Vladimir Jurowski
© Matthias Creutziger

The performance as a whole felt a little laboured. Despite the hints towards authenticity, the tempo seemed to rest just under Beethoven's markings. This allowed Jurowski to bring out the detail in the score and the performance highlighted the micro-structures in a piece so often revered for its overarching narrative. In particular, the cell-like motifs that pass between the strings in the first movement were articulated with a clarity and space that made me take notice of details I had missed before, a great accomplishment for a performance of a Beethoven symphony.

After a subdued awakening, and a pleasant, meandering visit to Beethoven's brook, I had hoped for more rustic fire and energy in the third-movement Allegro. Jurowski missed a wonderful opportunity to bring the performance alive; the work seemed to lose its sense of awe as time went on. The storm had an extra frission of danger due to the timpanist deciding at the very last moment to furiously retune his instrument, striking the first note in the nick of time. Apart from some nice contrasts in orchestral colouring in the final movement, it was a performance with flashes of brilliance that just missed the mark. 

Green Mass is the LPO's second commission from Alexander Raskatov, after 2010's A White Night's Dream. The concept was slightly bewildering from the offset: the Latin mass interspersed with eclectic poetic texts about the natural world in a multitude of languages. It seemed to be modelled after Britten's War Requiem, although the relevance of the Latin mass setting was not immediately obvious in this case. The patchwork nature of the texts was reflected in the music itself. It is clear the LPO was prepared to pull out all the stops for this new commission, and who can blame Raskatov for taking full advantage with contrabass clarinets, bass trumpets, electric guitars and a percussion section staffed with seven players and an electric fan. It did however feel very indulgent, and only heightened my expectations.

The musical language itself never settled. Ideas came and went with barely a sense of structure or direction. If there was any unifying theme, it was perhaps a sense of derivative gestures: unnecessary vocal glissandi, cruelly stratospheric lines for the Elena Vassilieva's soprano soloist and an uninteresting nod to aleatoric music with an electric fan 'playing' the chimes during an otherwise-unaccompanied vocal quartet.  

Throughout this the composite performers coped admirably. The practically chamber-sized Choir of Clare College, Cambridge was a strange partner to the gargantuan orchestra. Singing with admirable precision, it was frequently overcome by the orchestra or vocal gymnastics that obscured the text. Iestyn Davies and Mark Padmore both sang exquisitely, somehow making sense of their solo numbers. Bass soloist Nikolay Didenko did the best he could with some turgid material. Elena Vassilieva, the most experienced in Raskatov's music, fared the worst. Her voice lacked depth or volume, and this was not helped by the placing of the soloists in the choir stalls, amplified by microphones. It took away the sense of intimacy from a live performance and would have been disastrous had the calamitous nature of the piece itself not already enough of a distraction. The piece's sombre ending was shattered by the sounds of audience members exiting the hall, encapsulating a tangible sense of disappointment that so little could have been said with so much. 

**111