The Royal Festival Hall was the last port of call for the Philadelphia Orchestra’s extensive tour of Europe with its dynamic music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin at the helm. Given the French-Canadian maestro’s affinity with London, having been Principal Guest Conductor of the LPO until only recently, it seemed a fitting choice for the orchestra to conclude its tour this side of the Pond at the South Bank.
Two concerts were scheduled on consecutive evenings; the first offered an eclectic programme of which the undoubted highlight and centrepiece of the evening was a compelling account of Shostakovich’s First Violin Concerto with Lisa Batiashvilli as the formidable soloist. From the opening Nocturne, in which she mined the depths of human despair with playing of unrivalled poignancy, to the fiendishly difficult explosiveness of the two fast movements she made her instrument come alive as if possessed. With gracious support from Nézet-Séguin and the orchestra she spun the solo line in the ensuing Passacaglia with haunting beauty before attacking the cadenza with a ferocity that never let up through to the conclusion of the concerto.This was playing of uncommon accomplishment, skill and musicality.
A new work by Nico Muhly and Rachmaninov’s 3rd Symphony book-ended the Georgian violinist’s extraordinary display of brilliant musicianship. The young New Yorker’s Mixed Messages is a ten-minute rollercoaster of a ride in which Muhly employs a colourful orchestral palette to startling effect. Elements redolent of John Adams and Steve Reich jostled for attention, and although much of it is indebted to American music from the last thirty years, it was the kind of score you’d instantly want to listen to again.
Rachmaniov’s 3rd Symphony is in the orchestra’s DNA given it premiered the work in 1936. Often dismissed as a symphony that looks back in an over-indulgent fashion, rather than forward, the Russian composer’s reluctance to embrace a brave new musical world matters little when this oft-maligned symphony is given as persuasive performance as this. All sections of the orchestra played out of their skins for their music director with the strings’ renowned warmth complementing the pungent brass and rounded woodwind to perfection. Nézet-Séguin has achieved wonders with the orchestra over the last few years and on this hearing the Philadelphia more than deserves its place in America’s ‘Top Five’.
Further details of Royal Festival Hall concerts can be found at southbankcentre.co.uk.