Philharmonia Orchestra/Mälkki [Ruslan and Ludmilla … Valeriy Sokolov plays Tchaikovsky … Sibelius 5]

Ruslan and Ludmilla – Overture
Violin Concerto in D, Op.35
Symphony No.5 in E flat, Op.82

Valeriy Sokolov (violin)

Philharmonia Orchestra
Susanna Mälkki

Reviewed by: Richard Landau

Reviewed: 6 March, 2011
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall

Susanna Mälkki. ©Tanja AholaDuring BBC Proms 2008 Susanna Mälkki took over from an ailing Peter Eötvös for a Philharmonia Orchestra concert and was able to leave a demanding programme intact. Returning to the Philharmonia, Mälkki was now conducting a Sunday matinee, each of the three popular works receiving a very committed performance. With Mälkki’s hands almost sculpturally conveying her intentions, the Overture to Glinka’s “Ruslan and Ludmilla” was given every ounce of zest and beauty of phrasing that it demands.

Valeriy Sokolov. Photograph: Stéphane Olivier ArtéphotoIn Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, the 24-year-old Ukrainian Valeriy Sokolov applied immense technical assurance to a direct interpretation that was big-boned, imperious and expressive. His first entry was strikingly rich-toned, confident and unaffected – predictive of the whole performance – with Mälkki eliciting almost-whispered phrases from the Philharmonia that were not only touching in themselves but which threw Sokolov’s tonal allure into greater relief. The cadenza was commandingly played with sustained beauty of line and grandeur and towards the close of the first movement an especially rhapsodic mood was established, with distinctive contributions from horns and from bassoonist Sebastian Stevensson. Sokolov played the ‘Canzonetta’ as a heartfelt song, the accompaniment boasting many instrumental felicities, not least some really fluid playing from clarinettist Barnaby Robson. The finale was virile and exuberant, Sokolov’s technical prowess mirrored by a host of arresting orchestral details.

Sibelius’s Fifth Symphony also received a satisfying performance. The first movement was taken at a very measured pace, its bleak aural landscape vividly evoked through careful balancing of woodwinds and horns; then shimmering violins and solo bassoon transplanted us to far chillier regions. Extreme desolation gradually yielded to episodes of grandeur in which Mälkki’s careful layering of textures, and her adroit building of climaxes, ensured a powerful impact. In the slow movement vivid pizzicatos contributed much to the ubiquitous sense of melancholy while horns offered some relief from that dark mood with delightfully rustic sonorities. The finale was extremely exciting, even if the transition into the big swinging ‘swan’ tune was not quite ideally judged. Thereafter the movement advanced thrillingly towards the final bars, the first chords spaced evenly and deliberately, the last two delivered rapidly and to pungent effect.

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