I swear Vladimir Jurowski is getting younger. Yes, the leonine mane is mostly grey these days, but his energy and stamina is astonishing. After a huge London Philharmonic Orchestra programme of Elgar’s Violin Concerto, the longest in the standard repertoire, and George Enescu’s Second Symphony – at 50+ minutes not massive but so densely scored you’d need a satnav to negotiate your way through its heavy terrain – Jurowski bounded off the stage with the vigour of a teenager. Oh, and in between he played the piano as well. 

Vladimir Jurowski
© Wilfried Hösl

As soon as Jurowski launched into concerto’s introduction, the topography seemed less Malvern Hills and more Bavarian highlands, Elgar in Straussian mode, purposeful and thrusting. Aided by placing the eight double basses on risers so they nestled in the corner with the heavy brass, the LPO packed a weighty punch. 

Julia Fischer was the soloist, her last appearance with the orchestra in this spring’s residency. She’s not a flamboyant stage presence, but calm and poised especially in the way she stood still during the orchestral tuttis, gazing out into the hall or turning to watch the woodwinds, a model of serenity. Appearances can be deceptive though and Fischer’s first entry demonstrated a dark, oaky tone and her double-stopping later in the movement was ferocious in its attack. Standing very close to Jurowski, almost leaning over the rostrum, she sometimes had to dart out of the way when the conductor shot out a left hand towards his first violins. The Andante brought plenty of wistfulness, Fischer’s long legato lines spun like silk, as did her cadenza in the finale – with the string players thrummed pizzicato tremolando evoking the drone of bees on a lazy summer’s afternoon. 

Julia Fischer and the LPO
© Marquee TV

There was a lovely photograph in the programme of the 16-year old Yehudi Menuhin standing with Elgar on the steps of Abbey Road Studios in 1932 on the occasion of their famous recording of the concerto. Menuhin had studied with George Enescu and it was his Second Symphony, written just a couple of years after Elgar's concerto, that filled the concert’s second half. Forget any eastern European folk melodies though, for this is not the Enescu of the Romanian Rhapsodies. The composer had studied in Vienna and Paris and his musical language suggests hints of Strauss – particularly Ein Heldenleben in the first movement – and Stravinsky’s Diaghilev ballets. 

It’s a gnarly, complex score, heavily orchestrated – ten basses now! – although there are many delicate sonorities too; the front desk strings (all excellent) were often deployed in a chamber music-like setting. The score can sometimes be difficult to navigate, particularly the heterophonics – different motifs layered over each other – of the third movement. Thankfully, Jurowski was an expert guide. He has a proven track record when it comes to Enescu, having conducted the Second and Third Symphonies at the Enescu Festival in Bucharest in recent years, along with the opera Œdipe (with the LPO). His precision and drive – this performance came in just under 50 minutes – did not just steer the orchestra, but were helpful to the audience, pointing us to where the next important themes were emerging from and where they were travelling to. 

And Jurowski tickling the ivories? After the concerto, he joined Fischer in her encore, a lullaby from Melodies of the Moment, a suite for violin and piano by Ukrainian composer Valentyn Silvestrov. A tender moment indeed.

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