Vivid Performances of Russian Music from the LPO and Vladimir Jurowski

11/02/2018

Lyadov, Prokofiev and Stravinsky: Ray Chen (violin), London Philharmonic Orchestra / Vladimir Jurowski (conductor), Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre, London, 10.2.2018. (AS)

LyadovBaba Yaga, Op.56; The Enchanted Lake, Op.62; Kikimora, Op.63

Prokofiev – Violin Concerto No. 2 in G minor, Op.63

StravinskyPetrushka (1911 version)

Though the original 1911 version of Stravinsky’s Petrushka has been recorded several times, we usually hear the 1947 version, with its more economical scoring, in concert performances. Jurowski has performed the original score with the LPO before (his account of the work can be heard on the LPO live label – see review) and it was this version that he now conducted.

At once, in the opening scene which depicts the busyness and bustle of the Shrovetide Fair, we hear the difference. There is more colour and atmosphere in the original scoring, and as the ballet progresses its exoticism and its emotional and dramatic quality are all painted more vividly through the 1911 orchestration. Though Stravinsky had a practical reason for revising the score in 1947, in that the original was not subject to copyright, it seems a pity that his second thoughts are the ones usually realised.

Though Jurowski has an admirably wide range of musical sympathies his response to Russian music is always quite special, as it was on this occasion. He brought the music, and the ballet’s dramatic story to life with notable vividness, and the LPO played with its usual brilliance and intense commitment.

No less remarkable had been the performance of Prokofiev’s Second Violin Concerto by Ray Chen.      He has a very lovely tone quality which projects strongly from his Stradivarius instrument, and his technique is not only secure but seems effortlessly achieved. In lyrical passages his beauty of phrase   and shaping of melodic lines were very distinguished, and where the music suddenly changes character he responded to its sardonic bluntness with an appropriately gruff delivery. The last movement, with its apparent gaiety spiced with a more bitter quality, was particularly well characterised, not only by the soloist, but by conductor and orchestra.

To begin the concert, we had heard three short descriptive pieces written by Lyadov towards the end of his life. The shortest, Baba Yaga, is perhaps the least impressive; the subject of the child-eating witch who lives in a house on hen’s legs was painted more vividly in Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. The shimmering beauty of The Enchanted Lake has been enchantingly brought to life more than once at London’s Cadogan Hall in recent times when played by the Mariinsky Orchestra under Valery Gergiev. On this occasion Jurowski and the LPO didn’t quite bring out the glinting colours so effectively, but they entered into the hijinks of the poltergeist Kikimora with   lots of enthusiasm and energy.

Alan Sanders

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