Coincidentally, this season the BSO had already played both pieces on Jurowski’s LPO program. He opened with Shostakovich’s First Violin Concerto, composed in 1948, a dozen years after the Fourth Symphony, with Shostakovich once again under Soviet attack for creating subversive art. Like the symphony, the concerto was an extremely personal piece he had to withhold from performance for years. At the BSO, Andris Nelsons conducted it eloquently, and the soloist, Baiba Skride, an appealing young Latvian violinist, met the composer’s many challenges and played with touching honesty (despite an unfortunately ill-fitting ruffled dress that was hard for her to move in and made her look like a lampshade — someone should tell her about Project Runway). With the LPO, Jurowski and his soloist, the 42-year-old Siberian star Vadim Repin (only two years older than Jurowski), injected a ferocity, an intense pressure, that felt closer to Shostakovich’s spiritual turmoil.

I’ve been both impressed and frustrated by Repin. I remember complaining about his emotional inflexibility the first time I heard him, playing the Brahms concerto in a 1999 Celebrity Series concert with Amsterdam’s Concertgebouw Orchestra under Riccardo Chailly. But this time the stirring sound of his magnificent Guarneri conveyed more variety, especially in the meditative first movement Nocturne (which underlined Shostakovich’s doubts and uncertainties) and the extended solo cadenza, practically a movement in itself, that comes between the third movement Passacaglia (a paradoxically rapturous dirge) and the brilliant, frenzied last movement Burlesca.

Standing ovation number one.

In that Passacaglia, Shostakovich quotes the four-note motto — da-da-da-DAH — of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. So Jurowski’s high-wire idea was to follow the Shostakovich with the most famous symphony ever written. Just a month ago, Christoph von Dohnányi led the Beethoven Fifth with the BSO. In that performance, the familiar opening notes seemed utterly predictable and square, though the performance kicked into a higher gear in the later movements. Without much in the way of revelation, Dohnányi still provided conviction and real strength.

When I interviewed Jurowski, he went on at some length about Beethoven’s controversial metronome markings, which Beethoven added after the metronome was invented (around 1815) and after he had already lost his hearing. In Jurowski’s mind, these markings don’t need to be slavishly followed, but the general speeds they express should reveal the tempo relationships of all the movements. So the first movement, for example, should actually be faster than the finale. He expressed contempt for any conductor playing the opening too slowly.

He led those opening notes with passionate command. Nothing pedestrian here. The LPO horn player and winds responded eloquently. I was happy to see first and second violins divided antiphonally, allowing us to hear the contrasts between the two sections (legato firsts against pizzicato seconds in the Andante, for example). I was swept away by the Allegro finale, perhaps slower than usual but with a revved up coda.

Second standing O.

Some friends afterwards objected to the insistently martial nature of this performance, with its relentlessly slashing accents, and the general lack of vibrato in Jurowski’s strings. The symphony lacked a certain element of mystery. But though this may not have been a Beethoven Fifth for all time, I found it fresh and consistently exciting, the product of serious and illuminating thoughtfulness. I’m eager for more.


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Related: Talking with Vladimir Jurowski, Jonathan McPhee and The Longwood Symphony Orchestra, 'Rebirth of Third Stream' at NEC: playing in the cracks, More more >
  Topics: Classical , Shostakovich, Beethoven, Vladimir Jurowski,  More more >
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