For his final programme with the London Philharmonic Orchestra as Principal Conductor, Vladimir Jurowski curated a typically interesting and entertaining evening. He kicked off with Stravinsky’s mid 1930s ballet Jeu de cartes, a work that perfectly demonstrated the admirable qualities of the LPO: accurate and rounded string sound, characterful but integrated woodwind and the controlled power of the brass.

Vladimir Jurowski
© BBC | Chris Christodoulou

Jeu de cartes is a very sophisticated musical concoction spun around a rather silly scenario of a game of poker. It is almost a concerto for rhythmic ingenuity. Its constant changes of metre are fascinating, but also have the effect of making the work rather elusive. Added to that, it is not one of the composer's most thematically inspired offerings. However, it is a very intricately orchestrated and Jurowski marshalled the forces of LPO to showcase this aspect to near perfection.

In the mid 1950s, William Walton found himself musically cornered. His stylistic mix of Elgarian Britishness, Stravinsky-like sharpness and Hindemith-based harmonies was seriously out of fashion. His opera Troilus and Cressida had fallen flat and he was depressed, unsure where to go next. Despite this, when commissioned to write a Cello Concerto for Gregor Piatigorsky, it turned out to be one of the composer's most touching and effective works.

Steven Isserlis and the LPO
© BBC | Chris Christodoulou

Steven Isserlis was at his considerable best in the many melancholy moments in the score. The tempo of the slow first movement was spot on, not allowing the music to drag, but emphasising the underlying pensiveness of tone. The central Scherzo movement is transparently scored to enable the fiendishly virtuosic cello writing to take centre stage. Isserlis was lively and committed here, with only occasional moments where he pushed his tone and lost some focus. No such concerns in the rather oddly constructed finale. The return to a largely introspective tone suited Isserlis and in the mysterious final bars he held the audience in the palm of his hand.

Vladimir Jurowski conducts the LPO
© BBC | Chris Christodoulou

Friedrich Goldman is not a composer we know much about now, but his arrangement of 14 Canons from Bach’s Goldberg Variations were certainly quirky enough to spark interest. Scored for a small orchestra the addition of a harpsichord, it was principally memorable for stripping back the Bach to its bare essentials and presenting it in unusual combinations of instrumentation. It reminded me somewhat of Webern’s orchestration of the Ricercar from Bach’s Musical Offering and was played with great finesse here.

Hindemith's Mathis der Maler Symphony was also composed in the mid 1930s, the music taken from his opera of the same name. The subject of the opera caused problems for the composer with the Nazis and he was soon forced to leave Germany. The three-movement symphony is one of the composer’s most radiant scores and has rightly held a firm place in the repertoire. The opening movement, which acts as the prelude to the opera, was beautifully shaped here, bringing out the heavenly humanity of the score. The short, but intense slow movement, was potently brought off. The dramatic finale gave the orchestra the opportunity to open up for the first time and the result was exciting and rich. The coda was magnificent with the chorale theme blazing splendidly in the brass. 


****1