London Philharmonic maestro Vladimir Jurowski was in contention as chief conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra when the slot came open after Christoph Eschenbach announced he was leaving. Jurowski wasn’t chosen, but he is becoming a presence anyway. Even with only now four guest appearances on the podium, his impact is apparent. Already he is able to tap revelatory musical streams with the Fab Phils. This week thrillingly, in a lushly crafted and orchestrally succinct play list of Russian masters- Stravinsky, Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev.
Stravinsky’s Scherzo Fantastique sounds like a sprightly ballet score and in moments, allusive to The Firebird. Jurowski certainly made the music bouree and arabesque in our heads. He draws out the composer’s tonal imagery with dioramic clarity. The harp cascades, horn clusters and eerie tremolos alter the equilibrium. The Fantastique might be a confection on the surface, but played this well it conjures chromatic depths. A deft prologue for what is to come.
The performance by soloist Sergey Khachatryan of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto proved an event in itself. The young violinist looked broody, even tentative during the orchestra‘s silky allegro, during which he looked down, shifted his feet and otherwise appeared like he was going to run the mile. He then leaned back bathed in the swell of music and Khachatryan bow immediately set the tone in the andante with sonorous command and razor precision. Jurowski’s pacing airing out the romantic drapery to let Tchaikovsky breathe and Khachatryan’s tonal realism revel in its pure artistry.
There were more thrills in Jurowski’s baton, during Prokofiev Symphony no. 4, not often played, he put on display the Philadelphia Orchestra has to offer Russian neo-classicism. That subtext roiling to the surface in the scabrous waltz, for instance. Jurowski, second generation Russian conductor, articulates all these dimensions with unflashy drama. The contrepointe soloists built Prokofiev’s sonic architecture in steel and shadows.