All music was once new music, as the London Philharmonic’s 2020 Vision series quietly reminds us. Ingeniously programmed, and running throughout the year to mark the Beethoven anniversary, it celebrates the revolutionary nature of his achievement by juxtaposing his music and that of his contemporaries with works written a century and two centuries later, thereby steering us towards the continuing innovations of the present. So the opening concert, conducted by Vladimir Jurowski, placed his First Symphony, published in 1801, alongside Scriabin’s Second (1901), and Péter Eötvös’s Snatches of a Conversation (2001).
Jurowski can be a fine Beethovenian, though on this occasion his First took time to find its feet. The string sound was occasionally too weighty in the opening movement, the brass – natural trumpets, but valved horns – fractionally over prominent. The Menuetto, however, bristled with energy, while the elan of the finale, taken at a considerable lick, proved irresistible. Scriabin’s Second, cosmic in its aspirations but teetering on self-indulgence, was all Romantic agonies and ecstasies, beautifully played, with some gorgeous woodwind solos, though even Jurowski couldn’t disguise the bombast and decibels that Scriabin mistakes for genuine elation in the overlong finale.
Snatches of a Conversation, meanwhile, is an unclassifiable piece, shot through with overtones of absurdist theatre, in which a chamber ensemble and concertante double-bell trumpet (Marco Blaauw) eavesdrop on a narrator (Omar Ebrahim) whispering confidences, possibly about the end of an affair, to an unheard second person. Jazz, lyricism and uneasy humour collide in the score, which unnerves as much as it fascinates. Blaauw, for whom it was written, played it with understated, if utterly mesmerising, virtuosity.