The impeccably dressed Belgian Brussels Philharmonic Orchestra took to the stage at the packed Colston Hall for a sensational opening performance of Russian composer Borodin’s Polovtsian Dances. The unusual rhythms were spot on under guidance of Swiss conductor Michel Tabachnik’s baton. As chief conductor of the Brussels Philharmonic for the last few years, Tabachnik gave a fantastic visual display of the music and showed a strong connection with the musicians. He didn’t use a score and, as a result, the music came more naturally to him enabling him to really communicate with the orchestra without the obstacle of a score.

Miloš Karadaglić © Margaret Malandruccolo | DGG
Miloš Karadaglić
© Margaret Malandruccolo | DGG

With the evening’s theme entitled “Y Viva Espana!”, it was surprising that only two of the four composer’s works in the concert programme were Spanish. The programme worked as a whole, but didn’t carry a Spanish theme. To set the mood for the evening’s concert a pre-concert performance took place in the lobby of a young classical guitarist who was really rather good. It was almost a shame that his show came to a swift end on the final call for audience members to take their seats in the main hall.

Saint-Saëns' Symphony no. 3 in C minor certainly didn’t fit the Spanish theme but was one of the highlights of the evening. The astonishing climax in the final maestoso movement was so powerful and the resulting descending scale in C major hit the spot with a final beckon, sweep and rise from Tabachnik and huge, powerful chords from Bristolian Organist, Oliver Condy. The only frustrating point in the Saint Saëns was the inaudibility of the beautiful theme on the piano towards the end, which was sadly lost under a barrage of loud strings. The enthusiasm of the orchestra, hold them in a position of being easily one of the best orchestras at Colston Hall this season.

Sold as the star of the event, Montenegran guitarist Miloš Karadaglić played his debut performance here. Dressed simply in all black and his staple skinny-jeans, he took to the stage to a huge cheer. His performance of Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez felt disconnected, with the guitar becoming lost in the orchestral texture; the beauty of the cor anglais solo far outweighed Karadaglić’s solo interludes. His technique is undeniably strong, but the passion in his performance was somewhat lacking. It was not in Karadaglić’s favour that the guitar was, despite being amplified, virtually inaudible every time the orchestra played.

Karadaglić’s solo performances, where he played three short pieces by Manuel de Falla after the interval, offered a distinct improvement. It was clear that he was more comfortable in the intimate setting of being alone with the audience. The highlight of these three pieces was the Danza Española no. 1 (from La Vida Breve) in which the colour of the music involved complex harmonies and showcased Karadaglić’s technique as a guitarist. He was far more involved with the instrument watching his left hand carefully and at times raising the guitar to his left ear. This singular few minutes illustrated what I was searching for in Karadaglić’s Rodrigo.

The Brussels Philharmonic’s performance under Tabachnik will stay in my memory for a while and will be a difficult orchestra to compete with for a place as the best orchestra in this seasons classical concerts. 

***11