This was a true meat and two veg concert, using the best ingredients and some first-class cooking skills. And what better opener than the overture to Der Freischütz written by Carl Maria von Weber in 1821, an opera that almost singlehandedly launched German romanticism, with pre-echoes of Mendelsohn, Schumann and most notably, of Wagner. Given the full complement of strings in this performance, these connections were particularly evident. Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic Orchestra clearly enjoyed the romp, with every department on top form.

Vladimir Jurowski conducts the LPO © Simon Jay Price
Vladimir Jurowski conducts the LPO
© Simon Jay Price

The Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto that followed was treated to a fresh and lively airing by Alena Baeva, making her debut with the orchestra. Everything about the performance seemed to get under the skin of this very familiar work, giving it more than a new lease of life. The first movement had poise and excitement in equal measure, with the soloist demonstrating an exceptional evenness of tone across all the registers and an evident responsiveness to the conductor and orchestra.

The brief slow movement was given the most sensitive account, hushed and romantic in the most tasteful manner. The finale was everything you’d want it to be, thrillingly fast and technically sure footed, as well as having a true heart in the gentler passages. So, this was an undoubtedly a top-notch performance, making this masterpiece sound even more like one of the composer’s greatest works.

However, what clinched this concert as an exceptional event was the rare chance to hear the Symphony no. 2 in C minor by Anton Bruckner, here using the 1877 revision. Of the five symphonies Bruckner wrote before his well-known Fourth – yes, there's a "0" and a "00" – a case could be made that the Second is the most accomplished and deserving of more frequent outings. In this work much of the style and content of his symphonic language is fully formed, but not, as yet, at full intensity. Some of the more obsessive workings of the material that characterise the later symphonies are not as present and the overall atmosphere feels more conventionally symphonic and surprisingly light in mood.

Jurowski’s dynamic approach to the work bore fruit at every turn. The opening Allegro was quickfire and dramatic, but not without a twinkle in the eye. The slower themes weren’t rushed though and the beauty of them was given full weight. The exquisite slow movement is one the composer's most alluring creations. Jurowski found the perfect tempi throughout and in particular the beautiful second subject horn theme shone through the whole movement, faultlessly executed here. The magical coda, suspended in the air by an ecstatic clarinet call, was spine-tingling.    

The boisterous Scherzo was driven hard and all the better for it. The brass playing here and throughout was remarkable, powerful but not hard-edged. The climaxes were dominated by them, but there was always room for the polyphonic mosaic to register. This was particularly effective as the complex threads in the Finale coalesce and fragment in their teasing way, leading triumphantly to the C major coda.

Jurowski certainly made the best a case for this neglected work. It may be “Bruckner-lite” but it is a rewarding symphony in its own right and for those who find the excesses of length and angst of the later works too much, it opens out different vistas perhaps, into a more accessible sound world.

*****