London Philharmonic Orchestra/Vladimir Jurowski – Stravinsky’s Petrushka & Orpheus [LPO own label]

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4 of 5 stars

Petrushka [original 1911 version]
Symphonies of Wind Instruments [original 1920 version]

London Philharmonic Orchestra
Vladimir Jurowski

Recorded December 2014 & March 2015 in Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre, London

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: September 2016
CD No: LPO – 0091
Duration: 74 minutes


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Two very different Stravinsky ballet-scores include the colour and dynamism of Petrushka, gratifyingly given here in the extravagantly scored original version. Away from the concert, Vladimir Jurowski’s pristine attention to detail remains admirable, and the London Philharmonic’s playing is committed and resourceful, yet tempos can be ever so slightly ‘under’, somewhat negating the music’s sense of theatre, certainly in the first scene. It’s only a question of a few degrees, but it can be enough to alter one’s appreciation; and the sound quality, although vivid, has added ambience, not much but enough for it to be an aural distraction and also a falsification of the venue. The two middle tableaux fare best, expressive and poised, while the return to the fairground for the story’s denouement finds a greater sense of drama emanating from the performers.

Jurowski and the LPO work wonders with Orpheus (1947), co-scripted with choreographer George Balanchine and based on Greek Legend, Orpheus’s returning his wife Eurydice from the dead but his failure to heed the instruction not to look at her takes her back to mortality. Economically scored (for classical woodwinds, pairs of trumpets and trombones, four horns, strings, harp and timpani), this is coolly elegant music, for the most part subtle and restrained, yet not without complexities (certainly for the orchestra) and requiring unwavering concentration from musicians and listeners. The LPO and Jurowski turn in a beautifully judged, sensitive and exacting account of this fascinating but never bloodless music; and the recorded sound is now ‘cleaner’ regarding the things-added-in-later department. For this compelling Orpheus alone, this LPO release is recommended.

As the disc’s centrepiece, Symphonies of Wind Instruments in its first scoring (which Stravinsky revised in 1947 and removed such as the alto flute). Dedicated to the memory of the recently deceased Debussy, Stravinsky’s spiky and solemn invention finds Jurowski well-attuned to it; his clear-sighted direction conveys a sense of ritual and the final chorale is soulfully poignant.

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