Festival Gala Concert

MICHAEL DRAKE Philharmonia Orchestra, St Andrew's Hall, Norwich (Norfolk and Norwich Festival)

MICHAEL DRAKE

Philharmonia Orchestra, St Andrew's Hall, Norwich (Norfolk and Norwich Festival)

Last evening's Gala Concert by this world-famed orchestra (leader Daniel Rowland), with an all-Russian programme, opened appropriately with a Festive Overture (by Shostakovich) and a brilliant brass fanfare.

And what a thrilling beginning it was from the large orchestra, conducted in his rather angular but positive style by Vladimir Ashkenazy.

Move forward a few years to the relative freedom of the post-Stalin era and the same composer's Cello Concerto No 1, in which Steven Isserlis was an intense soloist. The all-pervading four-note motif was passed around from soloist to orchestra and Isserlis was energetic until a final few quieter bars which carried over early into the second movement. After that he moved from the contemplative to an unusual cadenza movement of high concentration and increasing vigour. As they moved straight into the finale, music and soloists were by this time quite uninhibited.

Rachmaninov's Symphony No 2 in E minor is an exhilarating work in which the orchestra's violins, even over rich and strong brass, still dominated in the opening Largo.

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The whole is sad but romantic but even so these qualities were present in the complete movement as it moved from brash intensity with the conductor (not using a score) placing every note.

A most beautifully set theme by clarinet in Adagio was followed by those all-enveloping strings over brass and whilst the finale had its quieter moments it was largely again those forces which held attention in the expansive orchestral might and another highlight in this festival of highlights was given an enthusiastic reception.

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