The London Philharmonic reached the second leg of its year-long “Stravinsky’s Journey”. Scherzo fantastique was written when Stravinsky was studying with Rimsky-Korsakov and is lavishly scored and inspired by Maurice Maeterlinck’s The Life of Bees. Vladimir Jurowski drew clear and vigorous playing – pin-point brass and perky woodwind in the outer sections – suggesting the teeming life in the hive and the central sunrise was launched by an enchanting flute solo from Juliette Bausor. The recently disinterred Funeral Song was composed to remember the deceased Rimsky, a powerful piece if with few features that are recognisably Stravinsky’s, save for pre-Firebird aspects. Jurowski and the LPO made the most of the music’s brooding nature.
Rimsky’s Piano Concerto (dedicated to Liszt) is a rarity nowadays and enjoys lyrical charm and folksiness. It’s in a concise single movement (barely fifteen minutes) opening with attractive bassoon and clarinet figures setting the scene. Alexander Ghindin supplied precision and glitter in the outer sections but could have made more of the poetic central part based on folksongs collected by Balakirev. Ghindin’s encore was ‘Russian Dance’ from Petrushka, presumably in Stravinsky’s own arrangement (Three Movements from...), although Ghindin may have added some embellishments.
The complete Firebird (for Diaghilev) can be a tricky piece to pull off in a concert when devoid of dance and decor: the early sections can seem uneventful (which is no doubt why Stravinsky made three Suites). Animated playing and a sense of drama are needed. Jurowski had the score’s measure (as such) and eschewed Chagall-like colours in favour of a clarity of detail and articulation that sometimes recalled the composer’s recordings. The lyrical sections were given with wistful tenderness and there was room for characterisation, but the main problem was that Jurowski was often too swift, the ‘Infernal Dance’ had brilliant playing but was rushed – at various points there was an unwillingness to savour the moment and create atmosphere – and the ‘Apotheosis’ lacked cumulative effect. That said, the LPO produced playing of consistent alertness, suppleness and finesse, and there were impressive solos, not least from bassoon (Jonathan Davies) and horn (John Ryan).