Vladimir Jurowski’s programmes with the London Philharmonic Orchestra are always thoughtfully curated, well prepared and entertaining. Returning as the orchestra's new Conductor Emeritus, this concert was no exception, with two works by Russian masters that are not amongst their most popular creations plus a newish work by Brett Dean, that had a brooding quality that could almost be Russian.

Vladimir Jurowski conducts the LPO
© Mark Allan

Shostakovich's Violin Concerto no. 1 in A minor is a harder nut to crack than the more approachable First Cello Concerto and the Second Piano Concerto. It was composed at a dark time of oppression in the arts in the USSR after the Second World War. The composer wisely held it back until 1955 when the winds were blowing in a more favourable direction. It is a work that speaks of the pain and disappointment of a nation that had fought off the Nazis and gone through so much suffering, which was now turning against its own citizens.

Russian violinist Alina Ibragimova, stepping in for an indisposed Leonidas Kavakos, seemed the ideal interpreter. Blessed with a phenomenal technique, stamina and an innate understanding of the meanings within, she found just the right note of expression throughout her performance. The opening Nocturne is a very morose and colourless affair, with themes that wander around a central point and rarely find any musical focus. Ibragimova was ideally both bloodless and passionate here. In the strange Allegro that follows, which seems to be moving fast but going nowhere, she attacked the fiendish double-stopping with strength and accuracy, never afraid to sound ugly as the music required. After the lamenting Passacaglia the cadenza, one of the most challenging in the repertoire, was played with searing intensity, leading directly into the finale. Despite its lively rhythms and exciting ending, the tone remains essentially negative. A very accomplished and idiomatic performance of a troubled work.

Brett Dean composed his Notturno inquieto (Rivisitato) as a commission from the Berlin Philharmonic in 2018. For this performance he added a short Prelude entitled L’inizio which creates an exceptionally eerie atmosphere of the deepest sounds from the orchestra. This leads to a compact and varied evocation of night. It is an excellent example of why Dean’s music has become so highly regarded. Its presentation of largely atonal music is highly sophisticated, but it is made approachable by its luxurious orchestration and interesting thematic material, which was clearly relished by Jurowski and the LPO.

Rachmaninov's Symphony no. 3 in A minor is the least performed of his major orchestral works. At its 1936 premiere it fell between two stools, appearing to be old-fashioned to some but lacking the familiar tunefulness and sweep for others. It is a work which can seem fragmented, but in the right hands it can have concision and intensity. For my taste, Jurowski didn’t allow the first movement to have its head enough. Through too much rubato, he seemed to be straining for expression that wasn’t there. The movement holds together more successfully with a more driven approach. However, in the central slow movement, which has a Scherzo as its middle section, he found just the right tone, with some beautifully sweet tone from the LPO strings. The finale was also successfully presented, with the coda as briefly resplendent as the composer intended. 

****1