Prophecies and apocalyptic visions were on the programme as part of the London Philharmonic's Be Moved season. Matching the Sphinx in Enescu's Oedipe, which opened the season for riddling ambiguity, the UK première of Valentin Silvestrov's Symphony no. 3 (Eschatophony) was the centre piece of the programme. The symphony's subtitle is the composer's own invention, being a play on the word 'eschatology' punningly transmuting into music the theological concept of the 'end of times'.

Vladimir Jurowski conducts the LPO © Simon Jay Price
Vladimir Jurowski conducts the LPO
© Simon Jay Price

Written in 1967 in Soviet Russia, with its title, serial and aleatory techniques, the composer had no chance of having the work performed. Silvestrov was introduced to Pierre Boulez, on tour in Leningrad, who had the score smuggled out of the country, as he was impressed by the writing. First conducted by Bruno Maderna in Germany, the symphony won the Serge Koussevitsky Memorial Prize, and was praised by the critical theorist Theodore Adorno for its modernism. Employing serial rows alternating with passages of rhymically free notation, the fragmented idiom ranges from post-Webern to expressive lyricism with the tintinnabulation of bells and celesta, with flautist Juliette Bausor recalling the bird songs of Messaien. The composer builds over three movements a post-avante garde visionary soundscape, until in the last movement, where sclerotic repeated string figurations are stuck in a terminal stasis, like the last stirrings of a primordial beast, the burgeoning woodwind promise new growth and flickering harps, piano and percussion seem like a purifying ritual fire consuming the old orders. The now eighty-year-old Ukrainian composer ceased composition for a year after this symphony, and then radically changed his musical style, having sealed his pact with the avante garde and moved on.

The Silvestrov was preceded by another work responding to the political and aesthetic climate of the 60s Soviet Union, Britten's Symphony for Cello, written for Rostropovich and first performed in Moscow in 1963. The work is Britten's largest purely symphonic score and, inspired by his friendship with the original soloist, it is a dramatic dialogue of equals. Instead of seeking to break moulds, Britten draws on Baroque forms such as the final Passacaglia, based on the Bach like cadenza. The last movement, until the last grandiose flourish, is dominated by a brightly jaunty trumpet theme, briliantly played by Paul Beniston. After some initial uncertainty in the score's rhetorical opening, cellist Jan Vogler blended with various orchestral sections, especially in the shadowy Adagio.

Quite how the Britten complied with the apocalyptic theme may be in question, but there could be little doubt that Janáček's rhapsody Taras Bulba fitted the bill. Taking a particularly gory episode in 17th-century Ukrainian history, the composer depicts the uprising of the Cossacks against the Poles. The deaths of Taras Bulba and his two sons are graphically depicted, and the younger's screams on the scaffold were vividly played by Thomas Watmough on E flat clarinet. With his pro-Slav sympathies, Janáček scores these struggles as a nationalist triumph, with a blazing trombones and full organ finale. As an experienced conductor of the composer's operas, Vladimir Jurowski relished the almost filmic drama of the work with gallopping horsemen, love scenes, marches and fanfares. All sections of the LPO, from richly refulgent strings, characterful woodwinds to stirring brass, responded brilliantly.

Throughout a typically searching and innovative programme, Jurowski's keen sense of balance, timbre, rhythmic precision and dramatic shape within complex scores was met with technical assurance and colour from the orchestra.