Vladimir Jurowski: 10 Years
Unlike many of his colleagues, Vladimir Jurowski has always been a records man. The Russian-born conductor freely admits to Andrew McGregor in the booklet accompanying this seven-CD retrospective the debt he owes to the LP collection of his father, the conductor Michail. Within this personally curated selection of highlights from the first decade of his tenure as music director of the London Philharmonic – let us hope there is a second to come – it may be coincidence that on disc 2, in presenting a suite from Prokofiev’s Chout (‘The Buffoon’), Jurowski goes in competition on record (Erich-Carlos style) with his father, who recorded the ballet complete for CPO (6/04). Or it may not.
Whether by accident or design there are two pervasive themes that run through this set, of spiritual conflict and consolation, and of sensuous or innovative techniques of orchestration. Rehearsal time permitting – which it doesn’t always – a Jurowski performance is always voiced more than played. The chording in the opening fanfare from La péri is a case in point, as much a moulded choir of brass as a band, led by co-principal trumpet Nicholas Betts.
There follows Dukas’s ballet complete, and then Daphnis et Chloé in a lean, Russian-sounding account, Russian in this context meaning ‘like early Stravinsky’, specifically Petrushka with its circus trumpets, and not excluding Stravinsky’s own debt to the tropes of Rimsky-Korsakov and Borodin such as Ravel’s meretricious rewriting of Sheherezade for the final ‘Danse générale’. The effect is to reveal debts that tend to be obscured by the clouds of more ripely Romantic or timbrally exacting performances. Stage business with the chorus, all derived from the score, works better on disc than it did on the night, though one pre-recorded a cappella passage goes awry. The thinned-out LPO sound threw the spotlight on some vividly individual solo wind-playing, and especially the central role played by Juliette Bausor, who was at the time (March 2015) trying out for principal flute.
The balletic fleetness of Jurowski’s Brahms was remarked upon when LPO Live released the symphonies (5/10, 3/14) and the same quality brings a keenly accented, narrative momentum to the German Requiem – which felt right at the time, stunned into submission as the audience had been by the concert’s first half of the nihilistic Ecclesiastical Action by Bernd Alois Zimmermann. The Alto Rhapsody from 2010 is likewise among the swiftest on record; though consolation is not withheld, I’m less convinced by Anna Larsson’s solo, somewhat large and unwieldy as recorded.
The year after a dry run at the Festival Hall in 2010, the LPO took to the Proms a spacious, meticulously plotted Faust Symphony. Jurowski teases out every gasp of halting ardour from the rising diminished sixth that Wagner appropriated from his father-in-law for the opening of Tristan but he goes on to forge a satisfying if fragile symphonic structure from the opening movement. The performance really catches fire in the Mephistophelean finale, where the recent experience of playing Die Meistersinger at Glyndebourne, the uniquely febrile Proms atmosphere and the uninhibited contribution of tenor Marko Jentzsch all conspire to make the piece something more than the sum of its parts – all too rare in my experience.
There are five ‘symphonies’ in the set, all of them nonconforming children to their generic parentage. The third symphonies of Szymanowski and Enescu (in, remarkably, its London premiere, a century after its composition) again find Jurowski in his element, keeping rhythms on a fairly tight rein so that the voluptuous harmonies and choral apotheoses don’t spill over into self-indulgence. Some will find that the Festival Hall acoustic in such works inhibits the last degree of involvement, but the microphones capture both a wide dynamic range and more flecks of colour amid the great washes of sound than one is likely to appreciate in the hall itself.
Signing off the set is its most recent recording, from February 2017, the two-movement Second Symphony completed by Edison Denisov just months before his death in 1996. This 15‑minute essay in densely applied layers of tone-colour owes as much to Webern as to Scriabin, making it a well-judged foil to the gently pulsing dissonances of Ligeti’s Atmosphères.
These are preceded on the final disc by another two slabs of Jurowski’s most personal and controversial offering to London audiences in his dogged advocacy of post-Soviet composers such as Denisov and (surely trying the patience of even the most loyal LPO subscriber) Alexander Raskatov. The muted Mahlerian detail of Valentin Silvestrov’s Fifth Symphony is certainly more lovingly cared for than on the Russian recording which made him famous in the West, but to what end? You might hear the ghost of Mahler’s Tenth or, at a stretch, the end-times aesthetic of Ustvolskaya in the crude contrasts and quizzical banalities of Another Step by Giya Kancheli, but you would be a more generous listener than me.
How to sum up? The set works on one level as a documentary of an adventurous orchestra, led at a happy if fiscally challenging point in its history by the restless intellect of a director who has the confidence both of the players in front of him and the management structure behind him. On the other hand, it would be a shame if only the LPO’s regular audience picked it up for the sake of happy memories. I haven’t even mentioned Glinka, Zemlinsky or Janá∂ek: there are discoveries to be made here by any listener sharing Jurowski’s ever-youthful curiosity of mind.