Rastakov's Green Mass, LPO with Vladimir Jurowski, Royal Festival Hall, review: 'a disaster'

Conductor Vladimir Jurowski
Conductor Vladimir Jurowski Credit: LPO

We've been here before with Vladimir Jurowski and the London Philharmonic. His great sense of adventure and curiosity sometimes give us the most interesting programmes of any London orchestra, but equally and stubbornly these qualities can lead to disaster. Featuring the world premiere of Alexander Raskatov's Green Mass, this concert proved again that his particular Achilles heel is post-Soviet music. The cleverness of the programme, its ecological agenda fleshed out with Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony, counted for nothing against the terribleness of Raskatov's work.

Scored for massive, stage-filling forces, Green Mass is another expensive mistake the LPO can hardly afford, and calls into question again the orchestra's artistic direction. There is a recurring theme here, as anyone with memories of Vladimir Martynov's Vita Nuova seven years ago will know. Characterised by a similarly lethal mixture of banality and naivety, Green Mass is the work of a composer who the LPO has commissioned before, so Jurowski seems to be one of the last conductors on Earth not to have noticed that Russia is today a compositional desert. A country that once produced a disproportionate number of great composers has suffered irreparable musical climate change.

Interspersing the text of the Mass with nature-inspired poetry, Raskatov (born 1953) may be trying to emulate Britten's War Requiem, but he is let down by his own postmodern padding. He throws everything into the orchestra, from electric guitar and cimbalom to steel drums and even wind chimes, but less would have been more. The "global" message of the text's five languages – taken from William Blake, Georg Trakl, Velimir Khlebnikov, Guillaume Apollinaire and St Francis of Assisi – was swallowed up.

Amplification did no favours to the squally soprano of Elena Vassilieva, but the other soloists (Iestyn Davies, Mark Padmore and Nikolay Didenko) coped valiantly alongside the Choir of Clare College, Cambridge. Jurowski conducted with conviction, which I hope he was faking in the name of professionalism.

To open the concert, a period-sized LPO made heavy weather of the Pastoral Symphony. Perhaps the sense of foreboding had something to do with the Raskatov that lay ahead, but it was a charmless performance that seemed to evoke the Russian steppe rather than the Viennese woods. Jurowski being Jurowski, he of course stamped his individual mark here, but the orchestra – playing with minimal vibrato, on natural trumpets and period timpani – was less than comfortable. The performance perked up from the middle movement onwards, yet it had little Beethovenian transcendence and no trace of the pantheism that had surely been the programme's whole starting point.