The London Philharmonic’s “Changing Faces: Stravinsky’s Journey” continues its forensic exploration. The evening began with Yuri Falik’s quarter-hour Elegiac Music (1975) – for strings and four trombones. Falik (1936-2009) abandoned a career as a cellist to pursue composition and promoting fellow-Russian composers. Stravinsky’s death in 1971 prompted Elegiac Music, which is mostly occupied with intense, sinuous writing (referencing the ‘Dies irae’) that traverses grief, restless agitation, luminosity and resignation. It’s a heartfelt tribute which needs playing of absolute conviction if it is not to outstay its welcome. There followed Anders Hillborg’s Mantra, a concise and eventful work. Block chords and a swirling haze of strings and climatic brass unfold like a slow if dynamic processional, before subsiding to initial ideas. Jurowski and the LPO threw everything at it, yet I’m not sure it added to more than the sum of its parts.
As intended by Hillborg, Mantra’s rhythmic intensity brought echoes of The Rite of Spring, almost in another realm from Stravinsky’s Ode. Using part of a discarded score for an Orson Welles film, Ode reached its final form in 1943 as a memorial commission from Serge Koussevitzky for his wife. This efficiently delivered account never quite gripped and, despite distinctive moments, left an anaemic impression, the outer movements needing greater definition and more-vivid playing.
In the Beethoven Gil Shaham drew on a range of colour, from lustrous to sweet-toned to fashion a first movement of aristocratic poise, balanced by an abundance of orchestral sensitivity. A fine cadenza (involving Simon Carrington, to reflect Beethoven including timpani in his cadenza for his Piano Concerto transcription, there isn’t one for the Violin Concerto itself) was Shaham’s adaptation of Kreisler’s and brought further pearls of artistry. Bronchial distraction caused Jurowski to restart the Larghetto, finely spun, pulse-slowing story-telling from Shaham whose subtleties of phrasing and shared intimacies conveyed an air of the confessional, and his individual approach found release in an additional cadenza. Fluid tempos characterised the Finale, not so fast as to be hurried, and with buoyancy, drama and lyricism. By the end Shaham had given us four cadenzas, different in character and each a marvel of imagination. As an encore Shaham played Hillborg's arrangement for violin and strings of J. S. Bach's Chorale Prelude, Ich ruf’ zu dir (BWV639), serene and polished.