Arts concert review

Refreshing to the ears

An exploration of classical music

5744 london
Vladimir Jurowski conducts The London Philharmonic at Symphony Hall last Friday. The performance was part of the Celebrity Series of Boston.
Richard Cannon

The London Philharmonic Orchestra

8 p.m. Friday, March 8, 2013

Symphony Hall

Conductor: Vladimir Jurowski

Violin Soloist: Vadim Repin

Program: Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto No. 1; Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5

Starting precisely together, the basses and cellos began the concert with vibrant depth in their tones. Immediately after, the soloist Vadim Repin began his violin entrance with his eyes closed and a serene face.

Vadim Repin is a world-renowned soloist who has performed with many of the world’s greatest orchestras. Playing with such elegance, Repin’s live performance was captivating. His cadenza was precise and brilliant, and he impressed the audience with his accurate sudden shifts from low to high positions.

For non-musicians, Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto No. 1 may seem abstract and hard to appreciate. The themes are not easily recognizable, which can make one feel ill at ease. But anyone could confidently recognize that Repin is a great violinist. There is a strength in his playing that makes his tone almost rough, but never harsh. By the end of his cadenza, he had broken a sweat and two bow hairs. The concerto ended with a standing ovation and an excited audience.

After the intermission, the London Philharmonic Orchestra performed Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5, which opens with one of the most widely recognized themes of classical music. The conductor, Vladimir Jurowski, was precise in his motions throughout the Beethoven piece. Watching him conduct, I could almost hear the comments he might have made during rehearsals, as his motions appeared to act like a reminder for the orchestra. Most conductors, depending on their style, add more motions to their conducting. However, Jurowski made minimal motions even during major beats, not adding extra motion for visual effect.

Since the Beethoven is more conventionally pleasing to the ear, it is much more accessible to non-musicians than the Shostakovich. The entire first movement is based on the first four notes in the piece, three of which are the same note. We can appreciate Beethoven’s genius when we realize he composed a piece that consists of essentially just straight eighth notes, with the same four notes. The first movement is full of tension, as if the composer is a little crazy. The also-famous second movement has an especially beautiful main theme, especially when contrasted with the first movement. Throughout the movement, this theme returns in many different variations.

The next movement has a theme that is passed throughout all the string sections, starting with the cellos and basses and moving to the violas, the second violins, and then the first violins. With orchestras that have a standard seating arrangement, we would be able to physically see the theme pass across the orchestra from right to left. However, this orchestra was set up with the strings arranged from left to right such that you would see the first violins, the cellos, the violas, and then the second violins playing — the basses were in the back left. Although I wasn’t able to watch the theme physically pass linearly through the orchestra, it was still performed well. This symphony ends with a crowd-pleasing, energetic, and very fast last movement, so the concert ended with excitement and another standing ovation.

The Celebrity Series of Boston will be presenting the “James Galway Legacy Tour” at Symphony Hall at 3 p.m. on Sunday, March 24. James Galway is a world-class flautist who has sold over 30 million albums and performed in the soundtrack for The Lord of the Rings. The program contains works of many time periods and styles, so should be of interest to anyone hoping to explore and learn more about classical music.