What a night. The conductor, Paavo Järvi, made the evening’s performance riveting, with a modest yet heartfelt performance. There were no egos on the stage, just unpretentious and pure classical music. The programme was three works long: two symphonies either side of a violin concerto. All three works were completely separate in quality and style, which allowed the evening to be diverse and exciting. The Philharmonia Orchestra added more instrumentalists to the stage for each piece, so the next work always felt bigger.

Lisa Batiashvili © Anja Frers / Deutsche Grammophon
Lisa Batiashvili
© Anja Frers / Deutsche Grammophon

For the Brahms Violin Concerto in D, Georgian violinist Lisa Batiashvili walked on stage in a neon pink floor-length dress with one sleeve, leaving a bare shoulder for her violin. This created a circle of neon around her violin as she played. It suited Batiashvili’s playing style, as her presence on stage was bold and electric. She moved her whole body around with each and every swipe of the bow. Playing this way, Batiashvili manages to produce an effortless sound. Tension was built with just the right amount of vibrato in the strings and her triple-stopping was impressive. There were some incredible solos in the first movement in which the violin and orchestra have a small amount of dialogue. This was connected seamlessly under the energetic eye of Järvi, who was dancing by the end of the last movement to the Hungarian gypsy-style melody. Järvi injected the orchestra full of red-blooded passion with his baton.

It wasn’t just the conductor who was fantastic. The orchestra had an absolute air of professionalism about them. No section stuck out too far and their timing and balance with the soloist was immaculate. Even the huge cymbal crashes in the second half of the concert were perfectly in place. Järvi got the best out of the orchestra as a team combined, and they worked extremely well together. A playful version of Haydn’s Symphony no. 85 in B flat, “La Reine” opened the evening. The humourous nature of Haydn came through, with the tempo taken bracingly by Järvi. The dynamics and phrasing needed to make the work fun were mastered.

Järvi is a fascinating man to watch in concert. Not only is he a Grammy award-winning conductor but he is also a swift mover on the stage. He remains focused, and incredibly involved in the music; there was no chance of this man putting his hands in his pockets. A fiery desire to capture the essence of the works could be seen waiting to escape through his fingers. Järvi tapped his feet in time – not too loudly – and pointed at the different parts of the orchestra. There was a wonderful dynamic between composer and conductor in the Brahms second movement, where he was almost pulling the melody out of the violin with a clenched fist only a few inches away from Batiashvili’s violin. Needless to say, she responded with pleasure and the movement between them really added to the heart-wrenching melody. The sheer amount of emotion injected into this piece by Batiashvili meant that the 20-minute-long Allegro non troppo felt like an entire work in itself.

The quiet opening of the Sibelius Symphony no. 1 in E minor was sadly ruined by a percussive clattering of ice in cups around the unsettled audience. This resulted in the beautiful clarinet theme, on which the entire symphony bases itself, being rather lost. The audience settled still as Järvi made a grand, sweeping gesture from left to right, introducing the rest of the orchestra, in particular the string section. From this moment on he had full attention for the rest of the symphony. It still astonishes me that this piece was first performed in 1899 as there are some amazingly modern moments in Sibelius’ writing – even the first tremolandos in the strings. The sound was on such an epic scale and the orchestra by no means did things in halves. The brass absolutely outdid themselves and the woodwind had impeccable timing.

Each of the three works of the concert all had merit for their own separate reasons, but most engaging was the final movement of the Sibelius, and what a place for the concert to climax – right at the very end. Modest in accepting applause, Järvi took to the stage to bow three times to louder claps, whistles and cheer each occasion. He deserved it all – it was sensational.

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