Nemanja Radulović and Eiji Oue are both natural showmen. An unlikely couple, to be sure: the dapper Oue a foot or so shorter than the beanpole-thin, big-hair-pony-tailed Serb violinist, whose idea of concert dress is skin-tight leather trousers and just-below-the-knee leather boots (in black, admittedly). Both abound with energy, both are given to extravagant, back-bending moves as they throw themselves into their music. But in last night's concert of American symphonic works at the National Forum for Music (NFM) in Wrocław, it was clearly Radulović who was the more musically persuasive of the two.

Nemanja Radulović © Joanna Stoga
Nemanja Radulović
© Joanna Stoga

Don't let the rock-and-roll appearance fool you: this is a violinist who can produce the sweetest timbre and maintain the cleanest of lines. Radulović announced his qualities in the first movement of Samuel Barber's Violin Concerto with a line that rose to a brilliant climax before switching to a contemplative mood; he played the slow movement quite beautifully, creating a sound that first beckoned and then dragged you into its warm embrace, music that you could lose yourself in. The third movement is labelled moto perpetuo: Radulović did far more than just prepare you for repetition, setting off with fingers flying at demonic, hair-raising speed, speed to make you first yank desperately on the reins, then give up and give the horse its head as you realise how thrilling the ride has become. After the elegiac musings of the second movement, this was playing to put a smile on your face – even if you are a technical purist, since Radulović never faltered for a moment in timing or intonation.

Eiji Oue © Joanna Stoga
Eiji Oue
© Joanna Stoga

Oue and the NFM Wrocław Philharmonic proved willing accomplices, clearly relishing taking part in the chase of the third movement and, broadly speaking, keeping up successfully with the frenetic pace. There were some memorable moments, such as the horn entries early in the first movement, an exquisite oboe solo at the start of the second, telling moments when the violin is accompanied by the gentlest of timpani rolls, woodwind swirls to accompany the violin in the third. But while the orchestra was never less than competent, I might have hoped for more from them: many wind phrases were played rather than sculpted, and although this is obviously the kind of work where the soloist is in the spotlight, there were still opportunities for the orchestra to shine that were not taken.

That pattern was repeated from the curtain-raiser, Leonard Bernstein's overture to Candide, which had plenty of vigour but a shortage of Broadway swing and pizzazz. It was still the case in the second half, Aaron Copland's Symphony no. 3. Again, the NFM Wrocław Philharmonic gave us some good moments, but left us wanting. The last movement incorporates what is perhaps Copland's most famous theme, lifted from his earlier Fanfare for the Common Man, introduced gently on woodwind before the full trombone and tuba section lets rip. There was plenty of volume, plenty of good brass sound, but that precision of accenting which gives the fanfare its last 10% was missing. In several of the faster passages, I didn't have confidence that Oue had the whole orchestra following in exactly the timing he wanted.

NFM Wrocław Philharmonic © Joanna Stoga
NFM Wrocław Philharmonic
© Joanna Stoga

This was an ambitious programme for a non-American orchestra. Plaudits to the NFM Wrocław Philharmonic for having the courage to tackle it, and plaudits to Nemanja Radulović for making the Barber concerto into a memorable musical experience. But more is needed before this orchestra can make this repertoire their own.

***11