London Philharmonic Orchestra/ Jurowski, Royal Festival Hall, London

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The Independent Culture

"Music of Memory and Reality" - that's one way of describing this concert of post-Soviet compositions by Kancheli, Yusupov, and Silvestrov.

Post-Soviet but post-glasnost and perestroika, too; post just about everything in the case of Valentyn Silvestrov's extraordinary 5th Symphony - a masterpiece only now receiving its UK public premiere. What does that say about life after Shostakovich?

Actually it says that artists born into oppression, and even those inheriting the legacy of it, will always live and work in the memory of what might have been. In the beginning was silence and the relationship between sound and silence is a big feature of the pieces by Giya Kancheli and Benjamin Yusopov which Vladimir Jurowski shrewdly chose to pair in the first half of his programme.

The silence before Kancheli's Another Step (1992) is ruptured by a series of blows, or explosive charges, which seem to hark back to the identification of "the chosen one" in Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring. Kancheli's short piece exists on two planes - that of aggression and pacifism, oppression and resistance. And with its disembodied effects of kitsch musical box recollections, it teeters between a Shostakovich-like rhetoric and stylistic shock-tactics reminiscent of Schnittke.

Either way, the expression is nothing if not cheesily melodramatic and when cellist Mischa Maisky then steps out in his duck-egg blue Issey Miyake silk tail-coat and jewelled neck broach to play Yusopov's 2006 Cello Concerto (another UK premiere) it is clear that the theatrics are from over. That's the other thing about post-Soviet music: there's something unashamedly retrogressive about it. Yusopov states that his concerto is a drama about "the Artist in relation to the World" - but the world has moved on. Maisky's highly emotive playing - cantor-like against the slings and arrows of a hostile orchestral back-drop - was highly compelling but when the beery Klezmer music of the scherzo-like third movement threatened to morph into Fiddler on the Roof not even the proximity of the Dies irae could wipe the scepticism off one's face. There's banal and there's banal. Bottom line: Shostakovich did the irony thing better.

Nobody does the odyssey thing better than Silvestrov. His beauteous 5th Symphony is so removed from earthly reality - Soviet or otherwise - that even the harp-festooned allusions to the Adagietto from Mahler's 5th Symphony seemed blissfully removed from any context, like an out-of-body experience. This gently oceanic piece knows no boundaries and like the air rushing through soundless brass encourages us to take deeper breaths in this life. Jurowski and the London Philharmonic certainly did. Their performance was both thoroughly prepared and raptly executed.