For its final visit of the Nottingham season, the Hallé presented a cosmopolitan programme with a twist: two works by Frenchmen, two by Russians. One French work offers an idiomatic impression of France's near neighbour, the other is best known as the soundtrack to a piece of American pop culture; and of the Russian works, only one was composed on Russian soil, the other being the final opus of a famous expatriate.

Alexandra Dariescu © Adrian Stoicoviciu
Alexandra Dariescu
© Adrian Stoicoviciu
That the programme had a cohesion it didn't have on paper was largely down to the efforts of guest conductor Jamie Phillips, a name new to me but one already making significant waves internationally. Phillips is a dynamic presence on the podium and on tonight's evidence has an uncommon ability to pick up a familiar piece by the scruff its neck and shake invigorating new life into it. He was matched in this by the evening's soloist, the Romanian pianist Alexandra Dariescu, whose account of Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto was distinguished by an astonishing level of attack and commitment. This is not a concerto for anyone afraid of the grandstanding gesture and (for the fastidious) occasional lapses into vulgarity to which its proposed first exponent, Nikolay Rubinstein, objected. Dariescu asserted herself from the first bars of the D flat introductory theme, giving notice of the fireworks to come. Here was a pianist capable of encapsulating every mood of this extrovert piece – the dramatic accelerandos of the first movement, the playful gambolling of the second and the fiery cossack dance of the final Allegro. Altogether a thrilling performance; we shall certainly be hearing more of her in future. An encore of one of Ginastera's tangos created an instant change of mood before the interval.

Dance of another kind – the flamenco – lies at the core of España, Chabrier's famously Gallic take on Spanish themes, which fond the Hallé's horns and brass on more secure ground than they had been in certain exposed sections of the concerto, where some slightly sour intonation marred ensemble. Although brief, this evocative overture showcased the Hallé's corporate strength and the different sections' capacity for listening and responding to each other.

The second half began with Rachmaninov's Symphonic Dances, a work that at times owes more to the Great White Way of New York than to the White Nights of Moscow. This is Rachmaninov at his most American, though the Russian winter is never entirely effaced and the composer's fixation on the Dies irae of Latin plainchant is present and correct even in this, his final completed work. This accomplished performance balanced both elements of this hybrid work, more substantial than a suite, but not quite a symphony. The first dance was distinguished by an alto saxophone solo from James Muirhead that sounded especially mournful above the opulent orchestration. Phillips reminded us that even in Rachmaninov's sunniest moments, the darkness is never far from the surface and the second dance had the nerve-wracking propulsion of a death waltz. The final dance, in which the Dies irae does battle with another theme imported from the same composer's Vespers, was played with exhilarating precision. Even if the more mysterious aspects of the work were overlooked, Phillips' account was distinguished by a cohesion that kept the dance and symphonic elements of the work in perfect equilibrium.

Dukas' The Sorcerer's Apprentice might have been a comedown after the Rachmaninov; that it wasn't said much for the Hallé's inability to give a routine performance, even of a piece as familiar as this. Close examination reveals it to be a more skilfully wrought work than its reputation suggests, most of its effects pivoting around the extraordinarily versatile main theme. It was another ideal showcase for the Hallé's teamwork and sense of ensemble, as well as demonstrating how effectively the orchestra could tell a 'story in sound', the Sorcerer, the incantation and the rollicking main theme were all vividly characterised. A special word for timpanist John Abendstern, who reminded us how important percussion is to all four of the programmed works.

The Hallé signed off with a vigorous 'end of season' reading of Shostakovich's Festive Overture, bringing a memorable night to its conclusion.