The evening after its prestigious Verdi Requiem in Westminster Cathedral with Riccardo Muti, the Philharmonia Orchestra was back in action on the South Bank with a concert conducted by young Tugan Sokhiev. It must be a coincidence that both conductors were unceremoniously elbowed out of the opera companies they headed – Muti from La Scala, Milan, after almost 20 years’ noble service and Sokhiev from Welsh National Opera after a stay so brief that the orchestra barely had time to tune up.
Undeterred, Sokhiev has pressed on, most visibly winning plaudits for his work in Toulouse. His relationship with the Philharmonia goes back to 2002 and has been founded on his speciality in Russian music. Like Valery Gergiev, Sokhiev grew up in Vladikavkaz, Ossetia.
The suite from Stravinsky’s Pulcinella made a good choice as the opening item in the Queen Elizabeth Hall, though Stravinsky’s own recording of it more successfully combined classical formality with a gritty, 20th-century rhythmic bite. Sokhiev veered between soft-centred pastiche and the boisterous high spirits that sent the final dance spinning away. A stricter grip on precision and detail was needed.
The pianist Piotr Anderszewski has that, though it never seems his primary motivating instinct. In Bartók’s Piano Concerto No.3 he roused himself to playing of greater power than he usually summons, striking the keys with tremendous percussive force. But the real Anderszewski, the dreamer, could not help withdrawing into some marvellously personal inner visions, where Sokhiev did his best to follow.
From there to Tchaikovsky brought a leap in achievement. Here, at last, was Sokhiev’s home ground, though perhaps it should not have been so obvious. Only last week, Colin Davis did his duty and tried to work up a head of Russian passion in Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No.4 for the Queen, but this performance was the real thing – brooding, playful, exhilarating, with an instinctive feel for colour and pace, and played by the Philharmonia Orchestra with a confidence that suggested they, as well as the conductor, were at last 100 per cent certain of what they were doing.
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