Whatever people say about London’s musical life, there is plenty of it and it is rarely dull. This evening of standard works by Tchaikovsky and Bruckner may have looked ordinary, but anybody who has been at the concerts of Finnish conductor Osmo Vänskä knows to expect the unexpected.
At the BBC Proms in September violinist Janine Jansen had found herself trapped in a performance of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto with the Philadelphia Orchestra so stultifying that she had no chance of bringing the music to life. Two months later, with Vänskä pulling the concerto this way and that, what a difference. Hardly a minute or two passed without the pace suddenly dropping to a near halt or making a spurt forwards. Jansen rode this bucking bronco with remarkable aplomb, turning every one of Vänskä’s extremes into a golden opportunity for virtuoso playing that was unbearably tender at one moment, bracingly athletic the next – although, at the heart of the slow movement, conductor and soloist disappeared into near inaudibility.
The main work was Bruckner’s Symphony No.4, but again not as we usually hear it. Bruckner had several goes at this symphony and Vänskä’s surprise this time was to use the seldom-heard 1888 version edited by Benjamin Korstvedt. This cuts sections of the third and fourth movements and proposes a lighter scoring for some of the rest. Was that why the symphony seemed more stop-start than usual and the sound rather etiolated, or was it that Vänskä was again pulling the music around and thinning out Bruckner’s organ-like orchestral sonorities in his search for clarity? Either way, the performance did not appeal to everybody. “Rubbish!”, yelled one disgruntled member of the audience, as he stormed from the hall in the middle of the finale, and then glaring into the stalls, “Why can’t you be more critical?”. Well, it would not be an Osmo Vänskä concert if there was not a bit of controversy.