Ruslan and Ludmilla – Overture
Violin Concerto in A minor, Op.82
Symphony No.9 in E minor, Op.95 (From the New World)
Nicola Benedetti (violin)
Reviewed by: Kenneth Carter
Reviewed: 15 October, 2009
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall
Leif Segerstam’s considerable body is a match for his largeness of spirit. When conducting, his hands turn into vibrant, fluttering birds at the end of up-stretched arms. There is no Kapellmeister beat. The results count – the Philharmonia Orchestra plays splendidly for him, with panache.
Where Segerstam excels is in projecting works of splendour and size – works of blazing vitality and colour. Pieces that all-too-often receive limp, lacklustre performances take on vigour and dynamism once more. Glinka’s Overture to “Ruslan and Ludmilla” – well-known, well-worn – blazed with vitality. Its exuberant momentum swirled. The music sang in jubilation.
Glazunov’s Violin Concerto is rarely played. It deserves wider repute. The piece is alive and melodic, its craftsmanship meticulous and assured. This is a highly civilised affair. Nicola Benedetti plays a Stradivarius and she takes her music seriously, giving us supple, sinuous, silvery phrases of soaring length, elegantly gliding over the water’s surface, majestic and splendid as she coasted through the air, seamless and quite beautiful. Segerstam conducted with discretion.
With the ‘New World’ Symphony, Segerstam set the Atlantic on fire. He presented a card of greeting from Europe to the USA – a resplendent declaration of the finest and most exuberant that the European tradition could offer to the American people. It asserted – and celebrated – the nationalism that was the composer’s life-blood. It then recognised – with blazing dignity – the presence of the American-Indian and the recently-freed African slaves in the potential of America’s future. Yet this was no crudely-coloured propaganda poster. Segerstam and the Philharmonia Orchestra confidently pronounced that Dvořák’s Ninth Symphony contains some of the finest music in the European tradition.