The Filarmonica della Scala is on fine form. It impressed critics during an intensive tour of Europe's top concert halls last month, and delivered a blistering reading of Mahler 2 under Daniele Gatti in Milan. Now it was back to open Music Director Riccardo Chailly's third successive season at the helm, in an evening that provided playing as polished as it was revelatory.

Riccardo Chailly © G. Gori | Filarmonica della Scala
Riccardo Chailly
© G. Gori | Filarmonica della Scala

Chailly is beefing up the orchestra's sound and honing its style through an intensive collaboration that has borne tours, recording projects and frequent appearances in Milan. The programme for this concert, which was fresh, bold and coherent, read both like a blueprint for the future (large Russian works will feature heavily in Chailly's programmes this season) and an expression of the conductor's desire to introduce the Milanese public to new or long-forgotten repertoire.

Had the originally-programmed Suite Suite from Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk by Shostakovich not been cut this would have been a formidable offering. But the decision to replace that work with the smaller-scale Funeral Song by Stravinsky – a work previously lost since 1909 and rediscovered in the St Petersburg Conservatory in 2015 – made for interesting listening and provided a sense of occasion, as the work here received its Italian première. Completing the programmatic sandwich were Tchaikovsky's Symphony no. 2 in C minor and Stravinsky's Petrushka in the 1947 version, which made unlikely bedfellows for their appropriation of Russian folk music.

Filarmonica della Scala © G. Gori | Filarmonica della Scala
Filarmonica della Scala
© G. Gori | Filarmonica della Scala

Chailly has given some revelatory readings with this orchestra, and with the Tchaikovsky we got another. His tight, explosive rendering felt like a prototype of the primal modernism that would find full expression in Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring. The conductor marshalled his forces into a compact and hard-working unit that made the "Little Russian" go off like a firecracker. Tension coiled in the mysterious Andante, a lovingly shaped horn solo wrapping around poised plucked lower strings, before the successive Allegro was made to fly. Maximum energy was channelled into Tchaikovsky's punchy score to make it sting in a performance that possessed no rough edges. The Filarmonica is the Manchester City of the orchestral world: playing with determination and purpose, it cuts an unstoppable unit.

The orchestra had the right colours in its palette too. Even the usually velvety violins had an icy, transparent quality whenever flashes of melody came through in the Andante marziale. The balance and tautness established in the opening movement was put to dizzying effect in the Scherzo, and while the brass section was bronzed and statuesque in a monumental reading of the Finale, an accompanying clarity of sound revealed a wealth of detail below the surface, with the final the climax reached by way of cleanly realised terraced dynamics.

Filarmonica della Scala brass © G. Gori | Filarmonica della Scala
Filarmonica della Scala brass
© G. Gori | Filarmonica della Scala

Stravinsky's dark Funeral Song contrasted starkly with such brilliance. Composed to commemorate Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's death in 1908, the music is grim and shadowy, emerging from a silence to which it ultimately returns via a foray into brassy Scriabin-like churning waters, and it was also possible to perceive the surprising influence of Wagner on Stravinsky in the work's harmonies and elongated phrases. Chailly gave a threatening account of the opening scratching lower strings and bass rumbles, growing through spidery violins to a passionate climax and gradually ebbing to a hushed close.

But in the successive reading of Petrushka, Stravinsky sounded like another composer. Playing here was a big-boned and impressive, though not with the transparency that revealed the inner workings of the Tchaikovsky with such clarity. Still, there was plenty of detail to enjoy – quicksilver violins in the Shrovetide Fair moved like swarming shoals of fish – and the vigorous knees up that is the Russian Dance had visceral punch. Special mention should go to the solo piano for some properly seductive playing. A fine conclusion to a delectable season opening.