It was heartening to see only a few empty seats at this adventurous London Philharmonic Orchestra concert of works, none of which could be considered as core parts of the repertory. In fact, the opening salvo by Russian composer Galina Ustvolskaya was completely new to me and has hardly seen the light of day anywhere since its first unsuccessful performance in St Petersburg in 1958. The Symphonic Poem no. 1 finds the composer, a former pupil of Shostakovich, in transition from Soviet Realist style to her own unique voice involving a juxtaposition of spare harmonic passages with more violent tone clusters. The result was a not altogether convincing, but entertaining amalgam of Shostakovich and Prokofiev. Conductor Emeritus Vladimir Jurowski and the LPO sounded luxurious in the rousing sections, particularly in the final passage, which ends unexpectedly in a blaze of glory.

Gil Shaham, Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra
© London Philharmonic Orchestra

Paul Hindemith’s reputation and significance as a composer has plummeted since his glory days in the 1920s and 30s. Alongside Stravinsky and Schoenberg, he was seen as being part of the vanguard of modern music, with his theories of Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity), being an alternative to neoclassicism and to Serialism. His large body of work is only represented in the repertoire now by a handful of works and many wonderful pieces, including the Violin Concerto, are grievously neglected. So, it was wonderful to hear the concerto performed so brilliantly here by Gil Shaham, no less, with inspired support from the LPO.

In the brilliant first movement, highly virtuosic passages by the soloist are contrasted with full-throated orchestral passages. Shaham’s interaction with the LPO was very effective, being able to rise above Hindemith's heavy orchestration with ease. In the pensive slow central movement, purity of tone and expressivity were achieved. Towards the end of the movement, an additional layer of warmth came into the playing. In the finale, the soloist needs to find another level of virtuosity, reminding us that the composer started his career as a violinist, and this was navigated stylishly by Shaham. The wonderful thematic material is very accessible here, and throughout the work, begging the questions as to why this concerto is so rarely played.

Vladimir Jurowski conducts the London Philharmonic Orchestra
© London Philharmonic Orchestra

Prokofiev Sixth Symphony is a hard work to bring off. Unlike the public facing Fifth, it deals in more personal and painful emotions that can be hard to project in the wrong hands. Not so on this occasion, Jurowski finding a vein of truth and poignancy that was totally convincing. In the opening Allegro moderato, the long melodic lines were interwoven seamlessly, coalescing with exciting results in the development section. The fabulous Largo is surely one of the composer's most powerful creations. Its wonderful array of disparate ingredients can be awkward to balance, mainly due to tricky tempo relationships, but Jurowski showed himself completely on top of this rich structure. The odd mix of jollity and tragedy in the finale was again expertly handled. A repeated figure on timpani, initially lurking in the background, eventually engulfs the movement. This negative final passage, which was frowned upon by the Soviet authorities, was here delivered with total commitment and devastating force.