Following hot on the heels of Antonio Pappano and the National Youth Orchestra of the USA at this year’s Proms, Vladimir Jurowski led the LPO on a similarly brisk traversal of the Alps in Richard Strauss’s final great tone poem. As much as it is a hymn to awe-inspiring Nature it is also an allegorical journey of a soul. With this in mind Jurowski was less keen on programmatic detail and more concerned with overall architecture.
The LPO was a magnificent sight with the stage stuffed to bursting founded on ten basses. The hushed dark sonorities of the opening led naturally into brass evoking the looming mountain and a sumptuous Sunrise. The Ascent was purposeful but the off-stage hunting horns were muffled. Wandering by the Stream had strings and woodwinds playing with a chamber-like delicacy and the Waterfall and following Apparition were presented in glistening, sparkling hues. A sense of panic was missing in On the Glacier, but there was an exquisite oboe solo from Ian Hardwick as the summit came within view. Jurowski pressed on and there was little tension in the Calm before the Storm which was itself powerful but never noisy. The Sunset section was beautifully judged with glorious string-playing and there was the necessary glow as the music sinks back into darkness. It was a very fine account indeed, if lacking some expansiveness. The LPO was on tip-top form. (VJ has recorded Alpine Symphony for the LPO’s own label, and it is five-star excellent – Ed.)
Equally impressive was the reading of Elgar’s Violin Concerto. Nicola Benedetti has only recently taken it up and hers may still be an interpretation in progress but it was a notably passionate performance devoid of sentimentality. Jurowski ensured that the violin was never swamped by the orchestra and the music’s prevailing mixture of ardour and sadness was well captured. Benedetti’s first entry was tastefully nobilmente and she gave the beguiling and enigmatic second subject a rhapsodic quality, finding sensuality and intimacy in the second movement, the LPO sensitive in support. In the Finale, Benedetti was forthright, if with a tendency to rush at notes. The long ‘accompanied cadenza’ was transfixing with more than a touch of fantasy.