December 6, 2011 1:43 pm

LPO / Jurowski, Royal Festival Hall, London

In past centuries the most successful composers were often the ones who allied themselves with aristocratic families, such as Monteverdi in Mantua or Haydn at Esterházy. Nowadays they get hitched to orchestras, as Julian Anderson has done in Birmingham, Cleveland and, most recently, as successor to Mark-Anthony Turnage as composer in residence with the London Philharmonic Orchestra.

For the composer, these positions generally yield, if not big commissions, at least repeat performances of earlier works. This concert opened with Anderson’s Fantasias, a 25-minute orchestral showpiece originally written as part of his residency in Cleveland. It starts with a brilliant movement for the brass alone, in which the rhythmic complexities set off lightning flashes of electricity. Then the rest of the players enter as if in a concerto for orchestra, each section with its own brand of technical wizardry – especially the wind, whose music fizzes frantically like sparks from a sorcerer’s wand.

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The fantastical world of Stravinsky’s Le Rossignol and The Firebird is the fount of many of these glittering sounds. Anderson piles on the complex textures to keep the players on their toes, but the delights of skilful orchestration can only keep the mind occupied for so long. In the end, his sleight of hand fails to keep the thinness of the basic material concealed. The five movements of Fantasias are also too similar.

After so much restless activity, the simple elegance of Mozart’s Violin Concerto No.5 sounded positively spartan. Janine Jansen tamed her big-boned, romantic playing down to a classical scale, though her natural athleticism could not resist breaking through in the cadenzas.

Then Vladimir Jurowski, LPO principal conductor, returned to home territory with Tchaikovsky’s “Manfred” Symphony. By this point the players were fully warmed up and the result was a white-hot performance – not emotionally indulgent, as Rostropovich used to be in Tchaikovsky, but concentrated to a gripping level of intensity. The symphony was crowned by a brief appearance from the Royal Festival Hall organ, or at least the half of it that is visibly working. Restoration is currently under way and the fundraising campaign is still open.

4 stars

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