This concert was infused with nationalistic flavour. Although billed as ‘Miloš plays Rodrigo’, it was Russian, not Spanish, music that stole the show. The London Philharmonic has gone from strength to strength under the baton of Vladimir Jurowski, and their playing captivated from the outset.

Miloš Karadaglić © Margaret Malandruccolo | DG
Miloš Karadaglić
© Margaret Malandruccolo | DG

The concert opened with Rimsky-Korsakov’s Russian Easter Festival Overture, a surprisingly rich and lively piece given its roots in orthodox plainchant. Written just after the Capriccio espagnol and Scheherezade, it shares the fabulous orchestration that makes those works favourites in the concert hall. It served as a great calling card for the orchestra; the strings producing a luminous, warm sound and the brass relished every moment in the spotlight. Ultimately though, with the supremacy of the LPO’s playing largely assured, there were fewer depths to plumb in this piece than in the two subsequent works.

Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez, completed in 1939 in Paris on the eve of World War II, has always occupied a mildly controversial place in the history of 20th century music, namely because it is such an uncontroversial piece. Strictly tonal and infused with archaic folk-inspired melodies, the piece, particularly the pathos-infused second movement, is one of the most instantly-recognisable works of the past century. Miloš Karadaglić has enjoyed great recognition in the infancy of his career, with a chart-topping debut album and the title of Gramophone ‘Young Artist of the Year 2011’. This was his debut London concerto performance, and expectations were high, and almost met.

Classical guitar and orchestra is not the most logical combination, and unfortunately even with the help of a microphone on stage, balance was never achieved. In the first movement, aside from the strong, strummed opening chords, much of the passage-work was lost. The guitar fared better in the central Adagio, and Miloš gave an impassioned rendition of a movement so over-exposed it could easily sound hackneyed and inauthentic. There were a few timing issues in the third movement. Miloš is a charismatic performer with a good stage presence. His encore performance of a transcription of the ‘Danza del molinero’ from de Falla’s Three-Cornered Hat was a show-stopper; however the concerto lost impact due to the balance problems.

The main draw of this concert was to hear Jurowski conduct Tchaikovky’s Symphony no. 6 Pathétique”. Tchaikovky’s tragic masterpiece, premièred under the composer’s baton nine days before he died, is a long meditation on death. At some point during the last century, it has become customary for the audience to applaud after the third of the four movements. The desire to applaud is no doubt due to the sudden shift to a major key and the bombastic, percussion and brass heavy, orchestral writing. However, I always felt this applause to be misguided. Completely unexpectedly, Jurowski addressed this issue in a brief but illuminating speech before the second half. Highlighting the similarities between the third movement and the musical language used to describe the rats in The Nutcracker, Jurowski gave a convincing and compelling description of this music as depicting ‘evil’ and ‘frenzy’, and imploring silence from the audience between the third and fourth movements.

This was a revelatory performance of the work; enough to warrant the star rating of this review. Jurowski conducted the third movement with a frightening intensity and viewed through the prism of this music connoting evil and mania, the effect was quite overwhelming. The silence between the last two movements was incredibly powerful. The fourth movement, a tragic lament that cannot fail to be heard as Tchaikovsky’s all-too-knowing farewell, was played with incredible passion. Whilst Tchaikovsky is primarily recognised as a gifted melodist as opposed to a radical, the quality of this performance really highlighted how forward-looking this work is, in fact, it seemed to anticipate Mahler’s Ninth Symphony

The London Philharmonic played stunningly throughout. They have recently completed a Tchaikovsky symphony cycle on their own CD label. Whereas, previously, I might not have explored this output given the long, rich history of Tchaikovsky’s symphonies on disc, the quality and authenticity of the playing has made me desperate to hear them in the earlier works. The London Philharmonic, Vladimir Jurowski and Russian repertoire is not a combination I’ll want to miss in the future.