On the basis that it is better to travel hopefully than to arrive, perhaps, the programme for this concert by the London Philharmonic Orchestra under its principal conductor Vladimir Jurowski didn’t stay in one place for long. The unifying element was what was billed as ‘French Masterpieces’, conveniently sidelining the fact that Arthur Honegger was Swiss, though all four composers represented were admittedly Paris-based. We began in mythical Persia with Paul Dukas’ exotic, erotic “poème dansé” La peri, about a hero journeying “to the ends of the earth” to steal a lotus harbouring the gift of immortality from a fallen angel, the peri, who then seduces him to wrest it back. It’s one of the most luscious French works of the period , and with his careful layering of Dukas’ sumptuous orchestration, Jurowski exploited its luminous textures to the full, with every detail from flutter-tonguing trumpets to harp-flecked xylophone telling, and with a build-up of sensual tension and excitement that would have given Salome a run for her seven veils.

Javier Perianes © Josep Molina
Javier Perianes
© Josep Molina

Next on our travels, we moved across the Arabian Peninsula and the Red Sea to the land of the Nile, and Camille Saint-Saëns’ Piano Concerto no. 5 in F major, the “Egyptian”. Its exponent was the young Spanish pianist Javier Perianes (and there are, appropriately, hints of Spain too in Saint-Saëns’ score, not to mention influences from Javanese gamelan). He brought beautifully nuanced playing to the first two movements and a fizzing energy and precision to the rhythmically vital finale. Jurowski and the orchestra matched him in every way – until the end of the work, this is more a piece about collaboration and support than traditional concerto infighting or competitiveness. And Perianes emerged as first among equals: he revelled in the composer’s lyrical melodiousness and proved himself to be a real keyboard colourist capable of conjuring an infinite variety of tonal subtlety from the piano. His encore of a Grieg Lyric Piece was similarly exquisite in its poise and refinement.

Despite this brief, unscheduled detour to Norway, our onward connection from Egypt to Europe was by train, with Honegger’s little masterpiece Pacific 231 (perhaps we were to imagine it hauling the Orient Express on its homeward run). Jurowski drew out the music’s futurist tendencies, its play with rhythm, momentum and pulse, and the LPO’s performance conveyed an overall mechanical powerhouse of orchestral energy that put Mosolov’s The Iron Foundry to mind.

Finally, we were close to home territory with Debussy’s Images pour orchestre, his tripartite portrait of Britain, France and Spain. As elsewhere in the programme, Jurowski excelled in drawing out the textural details of the orchestration without harming the overall trajectory of the music. His account of the opening Gigues, based around the Northumbrian folk-song “The Keel Row”, reminded us in its melancholy mood that the piece was originally to be called Gigues tristes, and the central Rondes de printemps, based on French folk-songs, had a fresh openness of sound. And to conclude our journey, we ended up where so many French composers did, Ibéria, though as the programme pointed out, Debussy only visited Spain once, for a day. Nonetheless, his encapsulation of the nocturnal sights and sounds, of the street-life and festivities of the country is unsurpassed, and again in their consummately prepared performance, Jurowski and the orchestra made every detail tell.

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