With only two weeks to go to the opening of the Glyndebourne season Vladimir Jurowski is giving the final polish to his performances. This year’s festival opens with a new production of Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, the largest-scale opera to be given in Glyndebourne’s history, and expectations are running high.
For Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra, the festival’s resident partnership, this concert gave a chance to offer an advance sample, in the form of the Prelude. Give it to the great Wagnerian conductors of recent history, such as Eugen Jochum or Reginald Goodall, and the results could be wildly disparate – Jochum raising the curtain on a buoyant comedy, Goodall laying the foundations for an imposing romantic epic – whereas Jurowski seemed more intent on leaving his options open.
The salient features of this performance were its generalised sense of purpose and a bright-eyed care for detail. If the overall effect was little more than businesslike, perhaps that means Jurowski wants to reserve the emotional high points for later in the opera. The blend of the sound was interesting with violins split left and right (though not always together) and many details in the brass predominating.
From there it was but a small step to Strauss’s Vier letzte Lieder, the swansong of Wagnerian romanticism. Christine Brewer, a noted Brünnhilde at the BBC Proms, reminded us that the first ever singer of these songs was the great Wagnerian Kirsten Flagstad. Brewer’s strength is her middle voice, which is impressively steady and rides the orchestra easily, whereas the top notes are apt to sound raw. This made for an uneven performance, short on long-breathed, Straussian beauty, but Brewer came into her own with the grandeur of the final song.
After that, Jurowski returned to familiar territory with a razor-sharp performance of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5, where the conductor defiantly held sentiment at bay. There may not be much warmth of heart in Jurowski’s Tchaikovsky, but its intensity is white-hot.