With Christmas market stalls already doing a roaring trade along the Thames next to the Southbank Centre, summer seems but a distant memory. However, the London Philharmonic Orchestra, playing under the lengthy baton of Michail Jurowski – Vlad’s dad – gave us a tantalising reminder of the season in the form of Frank Bridge’s brief tone poem Summer, before ending their programme by plunging us into the icy chill of Tchaikovsky’s Winter Daydreams. In such a rousing performance, it’s difficult to understand why the Russian’s First Symphony is so neglected in the concert hall.

Michail Jurowski © IMG Artists
Michail Jurowski
© IMG Artists

Bridge is now better known as Benjamin Britten’s teacher, but his music deserves to be heard. Summer was composed in 1915, an escape from being in “utter despair over the futility of World War One”. A languorous afternoon is evoked, strings creating a shimmer of heat, peppered with harp prickles. From a seated position, Jurowski coaxed the LPO strings in this gentle idyll, trumpets eventually ripening in full sunshine.

Winter Daydreams has never enjoyed great popularity among concert programmers, who prefer the angst – and ticket revenue – of the last three symphonies. Vladimir Jurowski, the LPO’s Chief Conductor, is a strong advocate though. Indeed, he has turned his orchestra into one of the country’s finest exponents of Tchaikovsky’s music. It’s clear that he inherits much of this drive from his father, who conducted a magnificent account of this joyous score at the helm of his son’s band. The Jurowskis’ techniques are poles apart. Where Vladimir is angular pokes and stabs with long, pointed fingers, Michail coaxes with his palms, with fluid wrist flicks from his long baton. The results, however, were much closer in spirit, the first movement tingling with the crisp crunch of footsteps treading in freshly fallen snow.  

“Land of Desolation, Land of Mists” is the subtitle of the second movement, given a clear-eyed account with fluent oboe figures, the violas curled up by the fireside’s glowing embers. Flutes, led by Sue Thomas, sparkled in the Scherzo, with the sixty LPO strings swirling in the infectious waltz which Tchaikovsky employs for the trio section. It was the finale which was especially wonderful, Jurowski relishing the anticipation of the joyous folk tune after the lugubrious opening with halting, teasing hesitations. When it arrived, the folksong “Raspashu li ya mlada, mladeshenka” (I’m sowing some flowers, my little one) was delivered with sheer unbuttoned joy, the LPO strings hymning exultantly. Perhaps the fugue section was a little deliberate, but the woodwinds and brass engaged in a lively Cossack dance to brush the snow off their boots. An exhilarating account.

Between summer and winter came Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto no. 3 in C major with young Italian Beatrice Rana as soloist. Looking not unlike a mermaid in her silvery dress, Rana delivered a highly sensitive account, hands splashing across the keyboard with great delicacy. This wasn’t hammered, percussive playing, and it lacked a little in voltage. She was well supported by Jurowski and the orchestra in playful fashion, from coiling clarinets, coy castanets and playful col legno slaps. The central movement was a delight, turning from mock gavotte to helter-skelter circus in the twinkling of an eye.