When Joseph Joachim premiered Brahms' Violin Concerto in Leipzig on New Year's Day 1879, he insisted on performing it with Beethoven's Violin Concerto on the same programme. “A lot of D major,” grumbled Brahms. No grumbling necessary here as Vladimir Jurowski decided on contrast via D minor, pairing the concerto with Anton Bruckner's Third Symphony. Janine Jansen was the superb soloist, balancing fire with refreshing mountain air in the Brahms, while the Bruckner was given a bracing drive that fully lived up to the London Philharmonic Orchestra's “Alpine Journey” billing.

Janine Jansen © Marco Borggreve
Janine Jansen
© Marco Borggreve

“This is my dream violin... the voice that I had been looking for,” Janine Jansen recently explained, talking about the 1707 Stradivarius “Rivaz, Baron Gutmann” she has on loan. The original owner was reputedly Dragonetti, the double bass virtuoso, and the instrument has had a lively history ever since. Its tone is wonderfully, rich, suiting Jansen's muscular approach, particularly in the violin's demonstrative opening statements in the Brahms concerto, which Jansen treated as turbulent operatic recitative in dialogue with the orchestra. There was plenty of sinew in her delivery of Joachim's meaty cadenza, but delicacy and poise too. The Baron Gutmann's upper reaches are sweet and silvery, without cloying, especially in Jansen's sensitive response to Ian Hardwick's clear-eyed oboe song – taken at a flowing Andante rather than Adagio pacing by Jurowski – in the central movement. Jansen moves very little during performance – a slight crouch at times, a half turn towards leader Pieter Schoeman – maintaining an assured presence whilst glued to Jurowski's conducting, particularly in the Hungarian Dance-like finale, full of pesante stamps.

Vladimir Jurowski © Drew Kelley
Vladimir Jurowski
© Drew Kelley

I wonder what Richard Wagner would have thought of the dainty Ländler – an Austrian folk dance – that suddenly pops up in the Scherzo of Bruckner's Third, surely a bit “peasanty” for the German composer's tastes. It was the symphony that Wagner agreed to receive the dedication after Bruckner had visited him in Bayreuth in 1873, offering him the choice of two scores: the Second and the (incomplete) Third. Wagner was apparently in frosty mood, but granted Bruckner an audience and retained the score of the Third for closer inspection. After a convivial evening together where Bruckner imbibed a little too much beer, the Austrian forgot which symphony Wagner had chosen. “The one in D minor with the trumpet theme?” he wrote. “Yes, yes!” replied Wagner, who thereafter referred to him as “Bruckner the trumpet”. Perhaps it was that trumpet theme, its falling octave not dissimilar to the Nothung motif from The Ring, that piqued Wagner's interest. Or perhaps the overt quotations from Die Walküre and Tristan und Isolde flattered him. These days, we'd call Bruckner a “fan girl”.

However, the symphony was rejected for performance by the Vienna Philharmonic and Bruckner excised the Wagner quotes before its premiere in December 1877. Nevertheless, there's something epically Wagnerian about the Third, even in its revised state, which makes the pulse tingle. Jurowski cut through this performance with a keen blade, scything through the lengthy first movement in no time. The LPO's brass section excelled, from Paul Beniston's pinpoint incision in that trumpet theme to the heavy artillery trombones. Jurowski, cueing instruments with an autocratic finger jab, was in no mood to stop and admire the view, powering through the 2+3 or 3+2 “Bruckner rhythms” and barely allowing the pregnant pauses time to die in the Festival Hall's dry acoustic.

Jurowski's forward momentum was maintained in the Adagio, the Scherzo whirled devilishly (and tersely without the coda) and the finale was driven hard, a rampant conflagration where at times one could almost hear Valhalla burning. A thrilling performance.

*****