Russian nights at the Proms generally include at least one very familiar, often all too familiar, warhorse. But there was nothing hackneyed in Vladimir Jurowski’s programme from his homeland. It was made up entirely of pieces from the decades on either side of 1900 that are rarely encountered in British concert halls, all of which were originally introduced to the UK by Henry Wood and form part of the current season’s Henry Wood novelties series.
Even the one item that was standard fare, Rachmaninov’s First Piano Concerto, turned out to be nothing of the sort. Instead of the revised version that the composer produced in 1917 and which is almost invariably heard today, this was the original score from 1891, which was later withdrawn and not published until 1971. It wasn’t recorded until Alexander Ghindin did so in 2001; Ghindin was also the soloist here, doing his best to make the hefty solo writing – clearly indebted to Grieg’s concerto – seem less overbearing, and the discursive finale less episodic.
Jurowski began with a suite from Rimsky-Korsakov’s 1890 opera Mlada, with the London Philharmonic Orchestra’s deft woodwind relishing its folksy dances. He ended with Glazunov’s Fifth Symphony, emphasising the lyrical heart of a work that seems to reference not only its Russian antecedents – such as the symphonies of Borodin and Tchaikovsky – but also composers from farther west, especially Dvořák.
But the real treat in this superbly played programme came with the three pieces by Lyadov, who is best remembered now as the composer who failed to complete a Firebird ballet for Diaghilev, opening the door for the young Stravinsky to launch his career instead. Jurowski included two of Lyadov’s orchestral “fairytales” Baba-Yaga and Kikimora, and the “symphonic picture” From the Apocalypse. All of them are less than 10 minutes long, but each is an exquisitely crafted miniature, as vividly programmatic in its modest way as Dukas’s Sorcerer’s Apprentice or anything by Richard Strauss.