It is a credit to the London Philharmonic’s bold programming under the direction of Vladimir Jurowski that the first half of this evening’s programme consisted of a UK première and movements from a rarely performed ballet by Prokofiev. Chout, initially written for Sergei Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes, revolves around the bizarre adventures of a nameless ‘buffoon’ and showcases Prokofiev at his most idiosyncratic. Playing five of the twelve movements that make up the entire suite, the LPO displayed a wonderful sonic variety and clarity of texture. It is hard to imagine a more sympathetic presentation of this little-known piece of repertoire but, whilst the intentions were laudable, the score was not entirely convincing as a concert-piece. The first two movements heard here lacked focus and, whilst this was not such a problem in the final three, the overall impression was of engaging moments rather than a coherent whole.

Vladimir Jurowski © Roman Gontcharov
Vladimir Jurowski
© Roman Gontcharov

The same could almost be said of Magnus Lindberg’s Piano Concerto no. 2, although in many ways this more recent piece was also more conventional. Lindberg’s music is as well crafted as ever but his musical language has lost its daring in recent years. Such a transformation is perfectly understandable as a composer matures; the corresponding loss of rhetorical energy has, however, been an unfortunate symptom of these changes. Cast in one continuous half-hour span, this concerto stars the piano in the lead role throughout with the orchestra serving only to add clarity to the development of material. Yefim Bronfman filled this role with aplomb, executing the consistently difficult solo part with apparent ease and a hard-edged insistence that did not lack delicacy when required. The orchestra’s playing had more of the rough-round-the-edges quality that one expects of a première performance. Despite this fact the work was well communicated and the quality of Lindberg’s orchestration was clear – the wind writing was particularly effective – but this piece is too polite to be considered a significant contribution to the genre.

After being responsible in the first half for giving convincing renditions of unfamiliar repertoire, the second half gave the orchestra the somewhat different challenge of breathing new life in to something much more familiar. They rose to this challenge with a vibrant and revitalising performance of Stravinsky’s Petrushka. The sheer daring of Stravinsky’s textures, especially the way in which ideas are layered polyrhythmically, and the inventiveness of the orchestration shone through. Accompanying the playing were surtitles, which enabled a clearer sense of the narrative to be formed through time. In practice, this worked very effectively, as moments that might make little sense when considered abstractly fell in to place within a dramatic situation. Thus the aforementioned layering of ideas could suddenly be understood as an amusingly literal approach to portraying the interaction between characters, whom often band together in grotesquely comic dances. A piece with so many familiar moments is difficult to approach with new ears, but the clarity of Jurowski’s vision – and the orchestras playing – made this a truly stimulating performance.

****1