Walter Waugaman
Posted on Sat, Mar. 20, 2010

Jurowski shows what he can do with Beethoven 3d: A lot

By David Patrick Stearns
Inquirer Classical Music Critic

All eyes were on conductor Vladimir Jurowski's return visit to the Philadelphia Orchestra on Thursday - or at least enough to fill most seats at the Kimmel Center's Verizon Hall (for a change).
Since the orchestra began courting him as a possible music director, classical music circles have been buzzing about his breadth of repertoire. His Tchaikovsky can be thrilling, but what about heavyweight Beethoven (always a good barometer of musical depth)?

Answer: The Symphony No. 3 ("Eroica"), a symphony of such philosophical weight that it seems to be at war with itself, emerged alive, unlabored, distinctive, and intelligent. Jurowski's collaboration with pianist Benedetto Lupo in Schumann's Piano Concerto opened up the thick orchestration to reveal important details, while the pianist's ultra-clear, even classical-era approach wasn't above Lisztian explosions that upped the tension. Brahms' Tragic Overture felt epic with Jurowski's precisely fashioned evolution of string color, even if dramatization of specific incidents slighted the music's architecture.

Not that it's time to join the Jurowski-is-God camp just yet. Even vastly talented artists have off nights and make bad repertoire decisions - as in the lame completion of Schubert's Symphony No. 8 ("Unfinished") he conducted a few years ago in New York in a performance that had few clean entrances. Recent London Philharmonic Orchestra recordings seem one rehearsal away from being extraordinary. Maybe he just needs an orchestra with Philadelphia's artistic bank account - an intangible quality that turns excellent interpretive ideas into greatness.

With basses lined up on risers across the back of the stage, Jurowski maintained a solid foundation to his fast but not driven, crisp but not brittle reading of the Beethoven Eroica. He drew particularly clear antiphonal effects by dividing the violins on either side of the podium, giving the music an even greater feeling of interior activity. Historically informed performance elements included less vibrato, tempos approximating the kind of metronome markings Beethoven favored, and repeating the first-movement exposition (as the composer requested) to enhance the overall form.

All these elements came with a vital sense of importance. Even the ensemble's excellent precision became an expressive entity, the extra clarity of the music's contrapuntal density making the symphony seem feverishly contained within a slim silhouette. The second-movement funeral march didn't go to the existential depths reached by Christoph Eschenbach, but that kind of expression didn't match the lithe ground rules of Jurowski's approach. Neither did the lushness of the Philadelphia strings, which was seldom heard but not missed at all.

ADDED NOTE from Walter Waugaman:

I noticed a number of passages in the second movement of the "Eroica" that were truly piano-pianissimo (PPP). The first violins played so softly that they were barely audible yet I was able to hear them in the first row of the third tier. The first violins played the passage alone except for either the second violins, violas, cellos, oboe, or flute sounded what sounded like the first note of each measure of the passage at the same very soft dynamic level as the first violins. The effect was almost magical.
Posted on 21 Mar 2010, 4:02 AM