Despite the Romantic flurries that took up the dominant and subdominant positions in the presentational order of this evening’s concert at the Royal Festival Hall, Beethoven held sway across the board. Andrés Orozco-Estrada directed most of the London Philharmonic Orchestra’s skill towards timing and rhythm: music’s most merciless controllers who risk thrusting Romantic works into a realm that defies spontaneity. This could have been a perilous mode of performance, subjecting luscious opuses to multiple pre-meditated blocks of stops and starts. Yet whilst Orozco-Estrada’s conductorial style at times missed out on accentuating the thinnest brushstrokes of detail in a viscous ensemble, a collection of variously-shaped aural contours was bestowed on our ears. The function of contrapuntal harmony was captured in a template that was both luminous and at the same time illuminating – like a shiny record sleeve that offers information on the work inside.

Andrés Orozco-Estrada © Martin Sigmund
Andrés Orozco-Estrada
© Martin Sigmund

Heralding the evening was the opening piece of Weber’s overture from Euryanthe. While certain moments could have been gentler, slower and softer, the overall jubilant essence of the work manifested itself – especially in the sleek co-operation of a band of brass instruments. Some sombre tremolos were amiss and a few rallentandos could have been played somewhat more gradually. But it was evident that the starts and ends of each section were sublimely controlled; each instrument or group anticipating its turns like individuals in a file waiting to enter a church. The tone of instruments was beautifully sustained when they zapped through swift passages, never collapsing into an emergency state of complete disarray. Although more tension and suspension could have been accumulated with the inclusion of a wider gamut of speeds and dynamics, attacks, on the other hand, could not have been cleaner.

Following this was an adroit performance of Bruch’s Violin Concerto no. 1 in G minor by Hilary Hahn. Whilst the entire concerto was performed with technical perfection in terms of notes and sudden changes in tempo, the piece was ensconced in a blank canvas that contained almost no variegation. Every single one of Hahn’s attacks was on point and sumptuous. Above all, her gift lies in the art of accumulating pace and crescendos. It was most evident here in the moment in the first movement that precedes the orchestra’s penultimate frenzied attack. Her tone, however, remained the same throughout; demonstrating an extremely consistent, slow, narrow vibrato and a pack of identically-paced trills which didn’t alter according to mood, subtext or sentiment. She was most vigorous in the last movement. Here Hahn seemed liberated from the metronomic empire that had determined her pace; quick trills gained ferocity and all ascending and fast passages were a delight to hear.

Most of the evening’s special nature, though, was grounded in one work: the oldest. Undertaking Beethoven’s “Eroica” Symphony, Orozco-Estrada mustered every section to perform with pristine tone – and pitted them against each other without any by-product of unwanted mess. Keeping a cap on many moments of the symphony is a colossal challenge: waves of contrasting melodies on strings and woodwind have to play with brazen independence – and yet work in unison. Here, however, we were presented with a tessellation of different shapes and diameters tiled neatly together in one well-arranged cluster. The strings shimmered elegantly and dipped from their forte calmly into piano; accelerandos were tempestuous and always punctually imposed.

Never subdued, phrases on lower strings were haunting and creepily so; especially in the Marcia funèbre. Some nuances, such as tiny arpeggios on double bass, were lost in the process, and a handful of motifs on strings could have been played with slow glumness. But the brass played like a tolling funeral bell and every instance of imitation or rounds was gloriously captured, regardless of the sections involved. Even underlying broken fifths on lower strings effervesced with a subtle command. The solo oboe in the third movement resounded with majestic agitation and an undertone of pizzicatos was beautifully spaced out in the fourth. Incandescently impressively, contrasting tempi between higher and lower strings endured towards the end without once dwindling; enveloping the infinite possibilities of rhythmic dimensions.

Altogether this was a performance many young conductors could emulate: one that served to remind cultured listeners ofleadthe importance of rudiments. It may not have been the most creatively adventurous interpretation of three different composers, but the lessons it offered in technical prowess were more than exemplary.