A sunny Sunday afternoon at Colston Hall marked the return of the London Philharmonic Orchestra to Bristol after over a decade away. The orchestra played alongside Argentinian cellist Sol Gabetta for a moving performance of Edward Elgar’s Cello Concerto in E minor. This was accompanied on either side by Sergei Prokofiev’s Symphony no. 1 and Jean Sibelius’ Symphony no. 2.

Sol Gabetta © Marco Borggreve
Sol Gabetta
© Marco Borggreve

Flowing elegantly onto the stage in a glitzy dress, the Grammy-nominated Gabetta sat down to embrace her cello as if it were part of her. The gutsy opening chords unleashed a fiery and heartfelt performance climbing into the emotional melody of the Adagio opening with a sense of longing. Her bow has a way of melting the music in my ears and undoubtedly reminded us that this is a serious piece of music. Less like any other of Elgar’s more exuberant British works, this concerto is full of sorrow and passion and radiates a humanistic quality. There are many different theories as to why this is the case, but it is suspected that the First World War had a profound impact on Elgar as a composer. Gabetta captured this in a way that could be felt with the warm, rich tones she produced on the cello. The plucked chords at the beginning of the second movement’s Lento felt as passionate as the start of an exotic flamenco dance with the deep notes in the resonant double basses reverberating behind the echo of the chords. The effect and the build-up under guest conductor Vassily Sinaisky were fantastic.

There was a wonderful part of the Sibelius Symphony no. 2 in D major, at the opening of the second movement, where the plucked walking notes transferred between the double bass to the cellos and back. It was seamless and the sections were unified under Sinaisky’s baton. This symphony was a great piece to finish the concert, as it was triumphant and exciting. Credit must go to Simon Carrington on timpani for this work, as he had a big part in creating the drama in the music and he mastered playing big loud rolls as well as quiet reverberations. The effect of the timpani throughout the piece was added to by his positioning on stage – on a raised platform at the middle and the back of the orchestra. The layout on stage of an orchestra can alter the sound, perhaps on a subconscious level, but careful placing here definitely added to the music.

Prokofiev’s take on the Classical era in his “Classical” Symphony was inspired by Mozart and Haydn’s music yet still has that wonderful folky Russian feel to it. The musical witticisms were the perfect starter to a great Sunday afternoon’s entertainment and complemented the emotional Elgar and conquering Sibelius. A sublime orchestra, the London Philharmonic have a huge repertoire behind them, founded by Sir Thomas Beecham in 1932 and boasting a long and distinguished history of concerts and film soundtracks; they even recorded all of the world’s national anthems for the London 2012 Olympics.

Vassily Sinaisky does what every good conductor strives to do. It is rare to see a conductor direct the orchestra so clearly, and he demonstrated his talent here very well. His career launched in 1973 and he is now the chief conductor at the Bolshoi theatre in Moscow and guest-conducts with many renowned orchestras around the world. Sinaisky comes across on stage as an experienced conductor to trust and had a great relationship with Sol Gabetta and the orchestra. Sol Gabetta was met with a glowing response from the audience, as was Sinaisky and each individual section of the orchestra as they all stood up to take their bow separately.

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