LPO / Jurowski / Pape - Royal Festival Hall, 31 May 2009
The balcony was closed due to lack of interest. The stalls were lightly sprinkled with the dedicated, the curious, and a few first timers clutching heavily discounted tickets (everyone from lastminute.com to the German Embassy was flogging them). The 2,900 seat Royal Festival Hall is hard enough to fill at the best of times, and the promise of 'new music' doesn't make it any easier.
Tonight's UK premiere was Torsten Rasch's Mein Herz brennt ("my heart burns"), a vast slab of heavy metal-tinged neo-romanticism in the form of a song cycle. The stage was built out to accommodate an orchestra so oversized they frequently drowned out the principal soloist, Rene Pape, despite his amplification. Couldn't someone have twiddled a knob somewhere? He sounds fabulous on the recording and it was a shame the live experience couldn't match up.
Katharina Thalbach, who wisely clutched her microphone to her chin, came across more clearly. Her whisky'n'cigs spoken vocals, somewhere between Lotte Lenya and the possession scene from The Exorcist, echoed the dark and brooding tone of the self-consciously retro music, which looks back to Zemlinsky and Schreker as much as Berg and Mahler.
The modern twist comes in the text, sourced from the lyrics of the German industrial metal band Rammstein. The tunes themselves are mostly discarded, but the melodic line retains more than a hint of rock rhythm. And despite the strong individual characterisation of each song, the relentlessly dense texture and earsplitting volume they all share is as cumulatively bludgeoning as a night in with Rammstein themselves.
The long evening began with the fifth symphony of Mendelssohn, the Susan Boyle of this year's anniversary composers, over-exposed and seemingly inescapable.
Mahler's Todtenfeier, a sketch for the first movement of his second symphony was an interesting choice. Not just because of Rasch's Mahler influence either - the LPO will open next season with a performance of the full symphony. This performance didn't dig too deep and sounded a tad under-rehearsed and, but the clarity and driving pace promised much.