Master Jurowski and his Beethoven

The programme of this concert included a rarity: Piano Concerto in E Flat major composed by 14-year-old Ludwig van Beethoven. This is likely his first composition with orchestra – a small one, just strings, flutes and horns. It was recently brought back to the concert stage by American pianist of Russian descent Julia Zilberquit, who presented Piano Concerto in E Flat major at the 21st Ludwig van Beethoven Easter Festival in Warsaw together with the Polish Sinfonia Iuventus Orchestra. Those who expected Beethoven in the Beethoven mode might have been disappointed. This is a purely classical piece in the spirit of Haydn and Mozart, written by a child prodigy who did not yet have the ambition to break with the classical structure; he was simply in the service of Prince Elector at the Mannheim court and composed music for his master.

Julia Zilberquit performed this concerto in a very romantic manner, with soft articulation, continuous legato, and marked pedalling. The performance was solid and neat, especially in the second movement Larghetto, which exudes a sense of calm. However, I must admit that I would rather hear it played on a period instrument. The pianist offered a single encore: the atmospheric Adagio from Alessandro Marcello’s Oboe Concerto in D minor, arranged by Johann Sebastian Bach.


The rest of this all-Beethoven concert belonged to the Polish Sinfonia Iuventus Orchestra, which performed under the baton of its first guest conductor, Michail Jurowski. Still little known in Poland, in 1989 this Russian conductor settled with his family in Germany to embark on a major career as a director and guest conductor of musical institutions such as Leipzig Opera, Deutsche Oper Berlin, WDR Rundfunkorchester in Cologne, and Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra. He has made over 60 recordings, mostly of Russian music, for Melodiya, CPO, and Capriccio. This October with Sinfonia Iuventus in Warsaw, he will conduct the world premiere of Anton Rubinstein’s religious opera Moses (1893), whose score he discovered at a German score publisher.


On Wednesday he conducted Coriolan Overture, Op. 62 and Symphony No. 6Pastoral”, Op. 68. He has a sure hand and makes clear gestures. He does not need too much expression, his small gestures are enough to enforce what has been rehearsed. Even if not all the chords opening Coriolan sounded confident, the conductor’s interpretive and structural ideas were clearly heard throughout the overture. Sharp contrasts of themes (a gloomy theme expressing a desire for revenge, and a melodious theme resounding with the voice of conscience), strong dynamic contrasts, outbursts of passion, preceded by creeping movement of the strings, based on a rising progression.

I was delighted with the first movement of the Sixth Symphony, in which Jurowski showed supreme economy of musical narrative based on motivic work, continuous, form-shaping development of themes, making them complex and simple. The musicians of the Sinfonia Iuventus, who had their parts very well mastered, were clearly satisfied “playing” their roles, which consisted of multilayered narrative built of several sound plans. Jurowski painted the pastoral nature of the entire symphony with soft lines, using delicate yet firm strokes of the brush. This manner of playing Beethoven is extremely rare today  – unhurried, delving deep into the structure of the work, showing the ebbs and flows, increasing tension and relaxation, the whole dramaturgy that forms a musical work. A very crisp style of conducting.

Anna S. Dębowska

Wednesday, 12 April, 7:30 pm, Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall