It’s not only life that stands still in a pandemic. Time does too, to judge from this concert which, though recorded on 5th December, was kept under wraps until its streamed premiere eleven days later. The London Philharmonic Orchestra, which billed the event variously and a mite confusingly under three umbrellas – “All the World’s A Stage”, “2020 Vision” and “In the Stream of Life” – had emblazoned the broadcast date and time on its virtual online programme as though it were live. That was just sleight of hand.

Vladimir Jurowski and the LPO play Bach
© London Philharmonic Orchestra

Old news then, but freshly served. Vladimir Jurowski’s appetising programme was a Hamlet sandwich, with a suite of prime cuts for accordion and orchestra (derived by Brett Dean from the strolling players scene of his Shakespeare opera) the substantial filling between Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto no. 5 and Stravinsky’s Baroque-inspired ballet Pulcinella. Since it was Jurowski and the LPO who first performed Hamlet at Glyndebourne in 2017, this UK premiere brought the Australian composer’s inspiration full circle.

Bartosz Glowacki
© London Philharmonic Orchestra

The Players is not quite hot off the press. The concertante work was first performed by Jurowski and Scottish accordionist James Crabb almost two years ago. This, however, this was its UK premiere, and it gave Bartosz Glowacki a startling showcase for his own virtuosity on the instrument. Between the newly-composed Prelude and a brief Postlude, Dean has reworked his earlier music to create a cavalcade of unfamiliar sounds played on familiar instruments. There is no longer a narrative to be tracked, just a musical itinerary for the listener to follow through variegated landscapes: darting accordion passages over lean orchestral textures; spiky, bustling tuttis; vivid character thumbnails. Pantomime, the most substantial section, is a long movement chock full of smaller movements within, like treats in an Easter Egg. Accordion and violins share a fizz-popping melody that slows down to become something halting and strange, then gives way to eerie effects from both soloist and orchestra. Stop, start, freeze, then tiptoe into the Postlude with its morbid descent towards death.

Vladimir Jurowski
© London Philharmonic Orchestra

By that point we’d travelled a long way since the Brandenburg, a joyous work that came bathed in dappled light both literal and figurative under Jurowski’s meticulous direction. As a concerto it can seldom have felt more alive, with section leaders who delighted in Bach’s demands and a harpsichordist (Catherine Edwards) who negotiated her first movement solo with enviable facility.

After Dean’s central triptych the ‘commedia’ ended with the complete Pulcinella. Stravinsky thought he was adapting the music of Pergolesi for this Neo-Baroque ballet but subsequent scholarship revealed that more than half the sources were by other hands. In Jurowski’s delicious reading it was hard to care one way or another. The expressive mezzo-soprano timbre of Angharad Lyddon, the robustly individual tenor of Sam Furness and the rich bass flavours of Matthew Rose all lent character to a work that can easily be less than the sum of its fragments. Not here. The LPO musicians gave Stravinsky’s score a ride in their musical Rolls-Royce and it gleamed.

This performance was reviewed from the video stream on Marquee TV