The London Philharmonic Orchestra’s "Changing Faces" series, examining the life and works of Stravinsky, continued in a typically interesting concert under Vladimir Jurowski. A programme of ballet paired Stravinsky’s Orpheus with the rarely performed Die Geschöpfe des Prometheus (Creatures of Prometheus), Beethoven’s only full length ballet. The two are an interesting combination: Stravinsky famously repudiated Beethoven, but both were composers that wrote across numerous genres and were definitive figures of their musical eras.

Russian conductor Vladimir Jurowski © Drew Kelley
Russian conductor Vladimir Jurowski
© Drew Kelley

Although it has largely disappeared from regular performance, at the time of its composition Prometheus achieved quite a success, receiving a round of twenty-two performances following its initial premiere in March 1801 in Vienna. The plot will be familiar to those aware of the Prometheus mythology: here Prometheus animates two statues and brings them before various divinities to imbue them with various feelings and emotions. The question of whether our performance would have been better without the additional element of contributions from the Theatre Trikster lingered in the mind after the concert ended. Striding on stage with Jurowski for the Beethoven was the most fantastic pair of white trousers ever to be seen at the Festival Hall, a feat of architectural and sartorial engineering within which was dancer-director Viascheslav Ignatov who provided the interpretation of Prometheus. A team of four dancers arrived shortly thereafter, clad in dark camouflage skin suits enlivened by handprints. They gave us clever and entrancing puppetry, along with –again a first, one imagines, for the Festival Hall – a dance featuring giant facial features, including an eyeball duet. A backdrop of a large sheet which covered the choir provided opportunities for shadow puppetry: a figure dancing as an oversized hand shaped and tweaked him. The only questionable moment was Prometheus’ initial dance across the stage, precariously wielding a vessel that appeared to contain an overflow of noodles. Primordial soup? An entertaining array of tricks then, but at times these were too distracting and drew too much attention away from the Beethoven.

Creatures of Prometheus has never established itself as a repertory piece, apart from its overture which is a common amuse-bouche. While Jurowski and the LPO made a strong argument for the piece, it came across as a hotchpotch that sits uneasily together. There are some wonderful moments though, which the LPO seized with mellifluous vigour: solos for cello, basset horn and harp were piquantly phrased and treated with attractive delicacy by their performers, while flautist Juliette Bausor elevated the performance with incisive and fragrant playing. Jurowski paced the piece well, drawing strong and defined playing from the strings; the performance from the brass was also worth noting for its clean articulation.

We remained in the territory of Greek myth for Stravinsky’s Orpheus, written for the Ballet Society of New York. It’s a work that always seems underperformed when one considers how haunting and achingly sad the music is. Theatre Trikster’s contributions were less hands-on here: more shadows on the background, silhouettes blurring and merging, which worked well in the context of the Underworld. The LPO captured the lugubrious element of the score perfectly: Rachel Master on the harp dripped out gaunt and bleak notes conjuring the tears of Orpheus and concertmaster Pieter Schoeman gave a throbbing solo. Pacing again was strong, providing an air of intimate reflection. The work made an ideal tonal contrast to the Beethoven: classically strong programming from the LPO.

****1