Estonian conductor Paavo Järvi led the Philharmonia Orchestra in a diverse programme spanning nearly a century of music. Opening with Beethoven’s Egmont Overture, the orchestra played with solemn pathos, the searing silences in between the opening chords pregnant with anticipation. A measured and nuanced performance set the mood for the rest of the evening: one of genuine, idiomatic music-making.

Viktoria Mullova
© Benjamin Ealovega

London-based Russian violinist Viktoria Mullova interpreted Sibelius’ concerto with reserved calm, opting for long, smooth phrases amidst the cascading arpeggiations and scalar figurations. Järvi and the Philharmonia played in close lockstep, allowing Mullova to truly shine in the first movement’s cadenza. The overall restraint of her performance made the first proper fortissimo tutti climax in the third movement much more impactful, paving the way for an emphatic finish. After applause, Järvi turned to the audience to announce that the encore would be Arvo Pärt’s Passacaglia, in which Mullova and the orchestra played with masterly élan.

Tchaikovsky’s mistranslated “Pathétique” Symphony is still considered by some scholars to be a suicide note, spurred on by societal intolerance of the composer's homosexuality. The facticity of these theories aside, the work is undoubtedly lugubrious with a highly unorthodox slow, minor ending. Numerous other aspects of the piece signal something awry, like the undance-able waltz in 5/4 time in the second movement and the almost excessively jubilant faux finish in the third movement. Järvi highlighted these aspects appropriately.

In spite of some mismatched articulations in the brass, the first movement showcased an impressive dynamic range, with the bass clarinet’s pppppp passage indeed being nearly inaudible. The trombones shone in the climax of the movement as well as in the tranquil major-key ending of the movement, displaying a marked contrast from the turbulent development section to the serene coda. Metrical divisions were earmarked clearly by Järvi’s tightly controlled tempi in the second movement, leading to a similarly well-executed third movement with the numerous scalar passages and hockets interlocking like clockwork. The long crescendo to the climactic finish of the movement was done so convincingly and effectively that the audience could not help but applaud after the exultant peroration in spite of Järvi going almost attacca into the finale. The fourth movement retrospectively contextualizes the “awry” features of the previous movements, and Järvi and the orchestra made this clear with the accentuation of the antiphonal split-violin theme and the repeated chains of suspensions permeating the thematic material. By the time the music progressed to the coda, the dying away of the final B minor chord into nothingness did not shock as much as it conveyed a sense of inevitable despair and tragedy. A protracted silence following the last echoes of the symphony provided a fitting close to both the work and to the concert.