Benedetti’s Beethoven was changed, at late notice, to Lomeiko’s Tchaikovsky. Sadly, the renowned violinist Nicola Benedetti was not able to make the performance, but her replacement was wonderful. Internationally established Russian violinist and professor at the Royal College of Music, Natalia Lomeiko stepped up to play the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto in D major instead of Beethoven’s concerto. Especially considering this was an incredibly last-minute replacement, it was undoubtedly the highlight of the evening.

Natalia Lomeiko © Sasha Gusov
Natalia Lomeiko
© Sasha Gusov

Natalia Lomeiko’s tone was mellow and her use of vibrato was heavy and indulgent. This worked well for the sumptuous nature of the piece and romantic melodies fuelled with Russian passion. As a work that frequents concert halls, the Tchaikovksy concerto is far from easy to play to the standard of everyone’s expectations, especially as the audience had been expecting Benedetti and Beethoven. Lomeiko, in a floor-length red gown, stood her own fiery ground and was met with rapturous applause, a huge bunch of flowers, and some well-deserved shouts of “Bravo!”

Some of the most captivating moments of the concert were Lomeiko’s cadenzas, given her own twist. This made the rendition far from boring and predictable, particularly in the first movement. From glissandi to double-stopping, her playing felt effortless, though she gave a very technical performance. There were moments between orchestra and soloist that were disjointed, but this was not a problem in Lomeiko’s hands. Her performance wasn’t arrogant or showy, but honest and heartfelt. She showed compassion and connection with the music, which pushed the concert to another level. The enthusiasm injected into her playing brought her cadenzas to life.

Despite the lack of Beethoven in the first half of the concert, the second half of the programme consisted entirely of Beethoven’s Symphony no. 8, performed by the Bristol Ensemble. A big piece like this requires a certain dramatic feel. The rhythms in the speedy Scherzo worked well to convey the drama, as they were insistent and driving. The melody in the violins was contained underneath, but the dialogue between different sections lacked effort. I felt at times this was due to the conductor’s all-too-casual nature, which held him back from directing the orchestra properly.

Conductor Ben Gernon gave an animated performance for the Brahms Academic Festival Overture at the start of the concert, but dipped in confidence for the Tchaikovsky. At such a late notice of change, he did well under the circumstances. At times the orchestra was not musically directed to its full potential despite containing some extremely talented instrumentalists. There was a lot of space between the instruments on stage that perhaps made direction more difficult. There was a huge gap between the cello and viola section, which made the stage heavy on the left and seemed to alter the sound balance of the orchestra. Where the horns might have otherwise blended, in an auditory and a visual sense, with the orchestra in the overture, they tended to stick out over the other layers of orchestral texture.

There were some notable members of the orchestra who kept the performance going, in particular some wonderful flute solos in the Tchaikovsky. Flautist Roger Armstrong was dynamic and projected his sound across the concert hall whilst still keeping in correct orchestral balance with Lomeiko.

It was clear from the chemistry between the orchestra and the conductor that the Beethoven was the well-rehearsed piece of the night and had the highest audience acclaim of the three works. The orchestra were more comfortable in this performance. This was not a personal highlight, as for me the sound did not have enough impact, but it was the piece where the conductor and orchestra were the most connected. For a concert that was designed to celebrate Beethoven, the second half did indeed result in a celebration of the symphony and did the composer justice.

***11