Three composers who have at various times have been misunderstood or ignored, featured in this bold programme from Vladimir Jurowski and the LPO. Giya Kancheli, who remains virtually unknown in this country, Martinů, who has frequently been dismissed as putting quantity over quality, and Vaughan Williams who is often mistaken for the purely pastoral composer of the The Lark Ascending, all demonstrated in this concert why these perceptions are not true.

Vladimir Jurowski © Simon Jay Price
Vladimir Jurowski
© Simon Jay Price

Kancheli’s career has mainly been focussed on his native Georgia and before that he was one of the leading post-Shostakovich Soviet composers. Comparisons with the older composer have not always done him justice, because although there are superficial similarities in musical styles, Kancheli has his own voice which was evident in this rare performance of this work, Mourned by the Wind. True there are long passages of brooding music punctuated by orchestral outbursts, as occurs in many Shostakovich symphonic first movements, but Kancheli employs this style within less conventional forms and is more unpredictable.

Mourned by the Wind, is a work of pure grief for a close friend the critic Givi Ordzhonikidze who died suddenly in 1984. It manages to capture the numbing, episodic and angry emotions of loss in a most convincing way and is not always a comfortable listen as a result. Isabelle van Keulen managed to produce the most wonderfully pure viola tone and the subtlest shades of dynamics in all fours movements and the LPO found intensity both in the quiet passages and in orchestral outbursts, which were not so much violent as blindly angry. It is an impressive work and a performance which hopefully opened the eyes of many towards this most underappreciated composer.  

Continuing the atmosphere of loss and memorialising, the second half of the concert kicked off with Martinů’s, Memorial to Lidice. For any of the composer's detractors, this short piece commemorating the murder of a whole village in Bohemia by the Nazis certainly proves that he was capable of great depth of feeling and concentrated intensity. In its brief duration it manages to encompass the same range of emotions that Kancheli took 45 minutes to produce, but here there is a striving for hopeful major keys, so typical of a composer who is one of the few, since Haydn, to portray joy and optimism without sounding superficial. A beautiful balanced and powerful interpretation  from Jurowski and the LPO did it full justice.

The star of the evening was, however, a most illuminating performance of Vaughan Williams Ninth (and last) Symphony, which of all his symphonies, remains the most neglected. This was one of the composer’s last works of any substance and, at 85 years of age, the composer was still ambitious and keen to try out new technical challenges. Here he combines and builds on everything he has learnt about structure and harmony with an extended orchestral palette that includes a larger percussion section, three saxophones and a flugelhorn.

In the ingeniously structured first movement, the organic growth of the themes was wonderfully paced by Jurowski. His approach seemed to have complete faith in the music and its dramatic intent and he didn’t take his eye off the ball in terms of tempi or dynamic shading. This positive approach also bore fruit in the two middle movements. The odd march theme in the Andante sostenuto has never sounded more convincing and the passionate outpouring in the central section was heart-stopping. The Scherzo danced and jived, almost as if the composer was, in his hard-of-hearing and arthritic way, acknowledging the new world of popular music that was emerging at the time. It was in the finale that Jurowski was most successful, making what some commentators have seen as a problematic structure into a cohesive and deeply moving entity more akin to late Sibelius than anywhere else in the composers output. A thoroughly convincing and satisfying performance that made total sense of an illusive and neglected masterpiece.