Andrey Boreyko was the commanding presence on the podium for a trio of works that thrilled and enthralled in equal measure. With the London Philharmonic Orchestra, the London Philharmonic Choir and cellist Kristina Blaumane, he gave a masterclass in how a conductor serves the interests of composers and their works, and how to leave the audience shouting for more. Although the concert was billed as “Tears and Laughter”, the obvious points of connection were the Russian-Ukrainian nexus. Whatever the politics within that nexus, it was definitely a poor second to the first-rate performances.

Kristine Blaumane, Andrey Boreyko and the LPO in rehearsal
© London Philharmonic Orchestra

Victoria Vita Polevá’s Nova, here receiving its UK premiere, is an astonishingly powerful piece of martial music, conceived in the “sacred minimalism” idiom, into which is interpolated Jeremiah Clarke’s Trumpet Voluntary. This surprising presence is, according to the composer, a reference to the “English People” during World War 2, drawing an analogy between King George VI and President Zelensky. The piece is a salute to the resolute defiance of her fellow-countrywomen and men in their defence of Ukraine, which she sees as being forged into “a new spiritual body”. Whether or not that latter sentiment is the case, it was evident that the Russian Boreyko, who conducted the first performance last October, understands the Ukrainian composer’s passion. His account of it was superbly choreographed and magnificently played.

Russian-born but long domiciled in the UK, Elena Langer is a prolific composer with a well-established reputation for her direct approach to communicating with her audience. The Dong with a Luminous Nose, receiving its world premiere, is a fantastical setting of Edward Lear’s delightfully sad poem of love found, love lost – and of the mournful madness that only a lost love can clamp on the heart. The Dong in question has a whirlwind romance with a Jumbly Girl. Time passes in blissful happiness but it is all too good to last; the Jumbly Girl goes away and leaves the poor Dong in a state of abject misery. In desperation he gathers the bark of the Twangum Tree, out of which he fashions the eponymous Luminous Nose. Thus equipped, he stalks the Gromboolian plain in search of what isn’t there.

From this heart-rending tale Langer produces a very-finely nuanced and effective drama. The LPO Choir, all fans of Lear, sang a joyful rendition of the text, set in the mono-syllabic style favoured by Langer. Blaumane, the LPO’s principal cellist, gave a passionate account of the virtuoso solo part written by her friend. Its structural role in the piece effectively links the narrative of the text with the descriptive panache of the orchestral writing. The whole package is a well-crafted production that ought to find its niche in the repertoire.

Performances of some masterworks often leave a poor reviewer scratching around for superlatives without wrinkles or grey beards; such a performance of Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony was gifted to a hugely appreciative audience by Boreyko and the LPO. The crucial thing to note is that the performance reflected all that had been previously given: rapturous playing by the whole orchestra; elegant and insightful conducting (with and without the baton); stylish solos from the section leaders; and a star-turn from timpanist Simon Carrington (a master-bombardier in both Nova and the final bars of the symphony). A critic once wrote that this work attested “to the fruitfulness of political intervention in the arts”. He must have been living in his own private empire. Boreyko knows that it is the passion of committed musicians that leads to fruitfulness in their art.