With a chill wind blowing off the Thames and the Christmas Trees of the Southbank's Winter Festival lighting up the late November night, this London Philharmonic Orchestra's programme was seasonally well timed with surveys of the seasons from Vivaldi, Kabalevsky and Glazunov. It is rare these days for one of London's big orchestras to programme Baroque repertoire and it was an intriguing opportunity for the orchestra's leader, Pieter Schoeman, both to direct and be the soloist in Vivaldi's The Four Seasons. 

Pieter Schoeman © London Philharmonic Orchestra
Pieter Schoeman
© London Philharmonic Orchestra

It was a collegiate performance rather than a showcase for a star virtuoso. With his sweet, fine-grained tone and a relatively large number of violins, he was the first amongst equals. Deft and fleet in Allegros, he brought lilt to the more dance-like passages, rather more straight-laced courtliness than robust rusticity. In the Adagio of Autumn and Largo of Winter, his flowing cantilena and generous phasing gave a sense of contemplative fire-side rêverie, especially in dialogue with the solo cello. The whole string ensemble played with expressive colouring, with notably feather-like delicacy from Catherine Edwards on the harpsichord. In contrast to their customary large scale repertoire the players amply proved their chamber skills and individual character.

The second half of the concert was the LPO debut of conductor Marius Stravinsky (and yes, he is related: fifth cousin, twice removed). A Russian-born Old Etonian, now based in Berlin, he has been mentored by Mariss Jansons (clearly that conductor's cup of tea!), and acted as assistant to Vladimir Jurowski. Like Jurowski, he is tall and angular with a long, admirably clear baton technique. Forthcoming engagements include productions with the Berlin Staatsballett. Stravinsky certainly has theatrical flair.

Marius Stravinsky © ICA
Marius Stravinsky
© ICA

As his opener, we had another of the orchestra's Russian rarities in Dmitry Kabalevsky's Spring: A Symphonic Poem, first performed in 1960. Drawn from film music, the ten minute score is far removed from Soviet era Social Realism. A wistful waltz with prominent flute solo, and a chiming piano hinting at the passing of time, it has a nostalgic melodic charm .

The evening ended inthe grandest manner with Alexander Glazunov's opulent ballet, The Seasons. Written naturally in four sections as a series of display divertissements and spectacular set pieces, the composer's mastery of orchestration are brilliantly demonstrated. In a stellar night for the woodwind, the LPO once again proved that they have no equals amongst the London orchestras in this Late Romantic Russian repertoire.

The ballet was first performed in 1900 by the Mariinsky company in the presence of Tsar Nicholas II, with choreography by Petipa and Pavlova as a soloist, in the theatre of the St Petersburg Hermitage, at once palace and museum. This beautifully wrought and iridescent score is itself a jewel, a decorative Fabergé-like work of art, stuffed with melodic bonbons. Opening with glistening frostiness, progressing through vernal vigour and the dazzle of summer Glazunov's symphonic grasp skilfully works into the Autumn finale earlier themes caught up in the surging Bacchanale, with its big theme which everyone knows even if they have not heard the whole work. Marius Stravinsky proved throughout his ideal balance of rhythmic alertness, sense of colour and ability to mould dramatic form.

As the seasons turn, it is poignant to think that the elderly, and by then critically regarded as a relic, Glazunov's last public appearance was conducting this work in 1931 in Eastbourne. Its apotheosis ,with intimations of the return of winter, brings to mind the words of Shelley: "If winter comes, can spring be far behind?".