Led by the suave and stylish young Italian conductor Daniele Rustioni, it was a highly polished and taut Hallé which delivered extremely satisfying accounts of three Russian staples – Glinka’s Ruslan and Lyudmila Overture, Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D major and Rachmaninov’s seldom heard Third Symphony. Glinka’s 1842 work (his second opera) is notable for its use of native Russian folk music as the basis of a serious work. His works went on to inspire an entire generation of future Russian composers. The overture is generally regarded as a very reliable opener given its vivacity and familiar melodies. Rustioni embarked upon it here with a brisk and lively tempo, his movements precise, metronomic. As the strings sang the warm, hopeful main theme there was real feeling expressed in clean and crisp playing. There was no ambiguity, only elegance. Dynamic balance was expertly judged throughout. So enjoyable was the ride, that the piece was over in the blink of an eye.

Francesca Dego
© Davide Cerati

The audience sufficiently warmed up, entering the stage next was Francesca Dego, the highly regarded 29-year-old Italian-American violinist. What followed was the finest account of Tchaikovsky’s glorious Violin Concerto that I have ever heard. She demonstrated an utterly flawless technique (not one misplaced note nor error could be heard throughout.) The aching, yearning nature of the music required playing which covered a kaleidoscope of emotions and this was delivered seemingly effortlessly.

The Hallé's luscious orchestral backing which was never intrusive, but provided just the right degree of support to allow the soloist the lead voice. There was a perfect illustration of simpatico all the way through: dynamics ranged from a gentle whisper akin to wind rustling through the grass, but built to solid walls of forte when the call scored for it.

Dego is capable of Lisztian levels of virtuosity, but it is always delivered with sensitivity and a deep understanding of the composer’s intentions. She often cradled her head closely in towards her violin, as though confiding intimate secrets to a close friend. Tchaikovsky certainly didn’t hold back in his cadenza-like writing toward the end of the first movement; there was a similarity in delivery to a Shakespearean soliloquy in the way Dego held the audience’s rapt attention. 

The melancholia of the second movement offered an opportunity for truly gorgeous delicacy in the violin’s opening passage. Soft, billowing strings lifted the melody soaring into the clouds. Infused with sadness, the flute assumed the baton. Crucially, while all eyes seemed to be trained on the soloist, Rustioni was making continual adjustments in the background to keep everything on track. Despite the dream-like world of this slow movement, a strong inner motor was responsible for pushing things forward.

The final movement provided further opportunity to witness the art of reflective solo exposition. Rapid fingerwork, plucked strings and mind-blowing panache all delivered at a rapid tempo, continued to wow those in attendance. It really was consummate skills and reinforced the sense that Dego had total control of her instrument. So persistent was the consequent applause, an encore was called for a subsequently executed.

Rachmaninov’s less familiar Symphony no. 3 in A minor formed the basis of the rest of the concert. Arguably less appreciated and less accessible than some of the maestro’s other gargantuan creations, this was a vivacious and energetic account. 

Opening with a ghostly oscillation between just three notes, the unmistakable voice of Rachmaninov shone through in the languorous melody. Enigmatic and impenetrable in places, the composer himself believed it to be a good work, but even wrote with characteristic modesty that “even the composer is wrong sometimes”. Music scholars have often put this down to a longing for Mother Russia ever present after he went into self-enforced exile, spending his remaining years in the USA where he was treated with adulation.

Rustioni indicated real passion for the symphony, living and breathing every dynamic, feeling every note and gesturing frantically throughout. Perhaps with repeated exposure, he might just be the champion which this neglected work requires to elevate it up and amongst Rachmaninov’s more noted masterpieces.