Vladimir Jurowski’s innovative programming was to the fore in this London Philharmonic concert. All three composers were nearing death when these pieces were written – none more so than Edison Denisov, whose Second Symphony (1996) was one of numerous works to emerge from the hectic productivity of his closing months. Commissioned by the Dresden Philharmonie, this is music audibly in the lineage of the defunct Austro-German symphonic tradition; its two movements unfolding as a continuity from sombre presentiment to febrile catastrophe, all the while focussing on that arresting amalgam of serial texture and late-Romantic rhetoric Denisov explored intensively near the end of an output too little known to the wider public.
Jurowski ensured a combative response from the LPO musicians in this powerful and disquieting piece whose fifteen minutes are over far too quickly (the Music Sales entry gives its duration at thirty, raising the possibility that further movements might at least have been planned), who were then unstinting in support of Patricia Kopatchinskaja for an account of Alban Berg’s Violin Concerto (1935) in which fatalism was banished by defiance wholly of and for the present. By no means flawless technically (not least in the soloist’s perilous ‘tuning’ first entry) it gained in conviction over an ominous Andante then an Allegretto fusing insouciance and pathos to touching effect. The visceral outer sections of the Allegro lacked little in impact, though it was Kopatchinskaja’s interplay with solo strings in the accompanied cadenza at its centre that held one spellbound, and how good to hear the Bach chorale rendered with such clarity on brass as the final Adagio reached its cathartic climax before the bittersweet leave-taking. Not for the first time, Kopatchinskaja was an arresting and illuminating interpreter.
While Denisov confronts death head-on and Berg leavens its sting, Shostakovich effectively disarms it over the course of his Fifteenth Symphony (1971). Recent hearings have tended to stress this music’s sense of space and emptiness, but Jurowski looked to its earliest Russian exponents in a reading of vitality evident throughout an edgily anarchic first movement. If there were disappointments, these came with an Adagio where Jurowski’s determination to secure an ongoing momentum short-changed its ruminative cello soliloquy and portentous trombone lamentation. The climax had no lack of plangency, and if the magical passage for strings and tuned percussion could have been more eloquently phrased, there was a seamless segue into a Scherzo whose sardonic and often inane antics were unfailingly well conveyed.
Among Shostakovich’s greatest symphonic movements, the Finale is remarkable less for its plethora of quotations and allusions than for the formal cohesion and expressive unity drawn from these. Jurowski’s impetus in the central passacaglia necessitated an overt slowing-up prior to its vast climax, but the reprise of earlier ideas was affectingly rendered on the way to a coda during which time plays itself out to mesmeric and disarming effect. An impressive performance overall, and a concert sure to prove among the highlights of the current season.