The first chord of Schubert’s Rosamunde Overture (previously associated with The Magic Harp) boded well for the evening: precise and with a notably positive tone from the trombones. This dramatic introduction was followed by a particularly stylish Allegro, the unhurried steadiness of which gave space for the elegant themes to be delivered expressively without losing the pulse. I enjoyed the way in which Tugan Sokhiev attended to the fiery up-rushing passage for lower strings which, but for the decision to use fewer numbers of players than later in the concert, could have been even stronger.
This clear-cut approach was also a feature of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto. Sokhiev was the ideal partner for Akiko Suwanai whose gentle yet firm presentation of the music was reflected at all times by the Philharmonia Orchestra which was rich in sound with securely-blended woodwinds and full-toned strings. Sokhiev’s ability to let the music flow without subjective interference was a convincing factor. A good test of a conductor’s appreciation of structure lies in the sequence of repeated notes with which the timpanist begins the work. This pattern reappears, differently orchestrated, throughout the first movement and if it is always at the original tempo then, as here, all is well. The unhurried pace of the music was ideal for Suwanai in the hushed and beautiful central section in which she was quietly sensitive – a memorable moment in which the artists admirably avoided the oft-heard device of holding back the tempo. It was no surprise that the Larghetto was equally fluent and moved gracefully into a dancing Finale in which all challenging moments for the soloist were integrated into the music as if their demands were of no consequence; Suwanai was eloquent throughout without ever vaunting her virtuosity.
Much of Sokhiev’s objective style was also apparent in Dvořák’s ‘New World’ Symphony, for which a few more strings were added. His reading of the first movement almost overthrew the ancient tradition beloved of many conductors, where each new melody is presented with a reduction of speed. Sokhiev avoided this until relaxing for the flute solo which leads the third of the tunes. Rather more surprisingly, Sokhiev opted to not observe the exposition repeat – an unusual choice nowadays. For the Largo the conductor’s characteristic of allowing players freedom in their solo moments was evident. This was of especial advantage to Jill Crowther whose cor anglais solo was exquisitely phrased. The Scherzo was powerful and full-toned. Maybe the repeat of the first section was tidier than first-time-round and perhaps the cross-rhythms of timpani against the rest of the orchestra were not always perfect but none of this mattered in this joyful context and the Trio fairly bounced along. The triangle was very modest, however – often to the point of inaudibility. The Finale was rousing – swift and with all the various elements successfully brought together – with no risk of the music sounding episodic. This was also a triumph for the brass – rich and always secure.