Blacher/LPO/Jurowski, Royal Festival Hall, London

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The Independent Culture

This was thrill-ing: a daring, yet meaningful juxtaposition of four highly contrasted 20th-century showpieces, vividly directed by one of the most inspirational young conductors, and delivered by a London Philharmonic Orchestra at the top of its form to an audience that hung on its every note.

In a short introductory talk explaining his choice of programme, Vladimir Jurowski pointed out that all four works were dance-based, their fantasy, colour and inventiveness variously masking 20th-century unease and anxiety. And in his direction of Debussy's crepuscular ballet Jeux (1913), Jurowski stretched the ebb and flow of the composer's fluid tempo-markings to the limit to heighten the score's decadent swoonings and sinister frissons. Yet one has rarely heard the shifting, evanescent detail of Debussy's orchestration revealed more clearly.

After this, the crisp neo-Bach textures of that naughty bag of tricks, Stravinsky's Violin Concerto (1931), could have sounded dry. But that would have been to reckon without the marvellously gutsy tone and physical involvement of the German virtuoso Kolja Blacher, in the cartwheels and bear-dances of the outer movements, and the tenderness he and Jurowski brought to the coda of the slow third movement.

Back to the bright, stinging textures of the Scherzo Fantastique (1908), with the young Stravinsky striving to outdo his teacher Rimsky-Korsakov in dazzling effects. Then another shock, with the rich textures of Rachmaninov's ultimate opus, Symphonic Dances (1940), with its dance-of-death finale.

Here a concert of taxing music took off into something else, as if conductor and orchestra were possessed. It was rather awesome.

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