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It is one of the curiosities of musical history that some of the most influential figures are barely represented in today’s repertoire. Weber, for example, was a huge influence on Wagner, yet we rarely hear his music. Similarly Glinka: without him, as Vladimir Jurowski underlined in his crisp and clean performance of Kamarinskaya with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, the folk songs we associate with the Russian symphonic school might not have entered the language.
Glinka’s barely known orchestral poem puts the Russian folk idiom in a nutshell. The music begins in sorrowful, soulful vein – Borodin before Borodin – and blossoms into a jolly jig. The blood relationship with Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony, The Enchantress and Cherevichki is unmistakable.
It would have been good to have that link illustrated elsewhere in the programme. Jurowski took us instead on to well-trodden Germanic territory, with performances of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto and Schumann’s Third Symphony that were anything but well-trodden.
The Mendelssohn is so often played that it has almost lost meaning. Not in Christian Tetzlaff’s hands: he unpicked every cliché in a reading very much of the moment. Tempi were uncommonly fast – the notes vanishing at point of contact – but there was still time to notice the mercurial sweep of the outer movements and the subtle variation of note-lengths in the Andante. If there was no sentimental lingering, there was also no showmanship. Tetzlaff’s light touch on the bow – shades of Milstein – banished memories of the pyrotechnic modern school. It was a revelation, taking me back to my first encounter with this music. It was that inspiring.
The symphony sounded similarly light-footed, with the OAE’s horns and woodwinds relishing their opportunities to paint Schumann’s primary colours. As for Jurowski, well, he speaks the language of music in a way that transcends period style. Tracing a mean between proportion and propulsion, he showed us why the symphony’s classical-romantic design is so expressive. An exceptional concert.
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