The Belgrade Philharmonic Orchestra’s former principal conductor Uroš Lajovic saved the day by stepping in to replace the advertised conductor at short notice for the orchestra’s latest concert. The concert started with Rossini’s ever-popular William Tell Overture. Its melodies, and especially the final section, are so familiar that sometimes it takes a live performance where we are concentrating on the music and nothing else to remind us what an extraordinary piece it is: almost a four-movement symphony, or perhaps a symphonic poem relating the events of the opera, condensed into 12 minutes. Perhaps the audience was taking its time to settle, but I felt that the opening with its prominent cellos was a little tentative, and the pastoral third section felt a little less atmospheric than it might have been. On the other hand, the storm in the third section was thrilling and the tension in the concluding “March of the Swiss Soldiers” was built up and finally released to create maximum effect at the end.

Robert Lakatos and Uroš Lajovic with the Belgrade Philharmonic Orchestra
© Belgrade Philharmonic Orchestra

The orchestra was joined by Robert Lakatos for Korngold’s Violin Concerto. The composer had emigrated from Austria to the United States in the 1930s and during World War 2 had devoted himself exclusively to writing music for films. With the defeat of Hitler he returned to concert music and his first such work was the Violin Concerto which was premiered in 1947. In it, he drew on music from several of his film scores, thus bridging the two worlds. His style brings together the central European classical tradition, lush late Romanticism and the sweeping sound of Hollywood. This blend suited Lakatoš perfectly. His sumptuous, confident tone was exactly right for this music. He had a commanding musical presence and took the lead right from the start, matching the richness of the orchestra with his intense playing. In the second movement (Romanze) he conjured up a rapt atmosphere with long sweet melodies, while the orchestra largely took on a supporting, background role. In the fast and lively finale (which sometimes harked back to the big tunes of the first movement) Lakatoš took every opportunity to dazzle the audience with his virtuosity. He and the conductor appeared to revel in the composer’s ability to suddenly swing from one mood to another. All in all it was a fine performance. Lakatoš treated us to a substantial encore: the finale of Ysaÿe’s Violin Sonata no. 4.

Mendelssohn’s musical depiction of Italy in his Symphony no. 4 is bound to give rise to thoughts of warm summer sunshine wherever it is played, and so it proved on a cold winter’s evening in Belgrade. The composer wrote to his sister that it was one of his jolliest compositions and, although he later had misgivings about it, it is surely one of the most positive symphonies in the repertoire. Lajovic’s undemonstrative manner elicited a highly polished performance – nothing flashy or controversial but very satisfying indeed: everything came together as it should. I am often impressed by the Belgrade Philharmonic’s strings and was again in the opening of the Italian Symphony where their smooth, elegant playing conjured up a joyful, positive atmosphere. That is not to underrate the rest of the orchestra: the winds had just the right lightness of touch and emerged from the whole ensemble as necessary, and the horns in the third movement had their moment of prominence. Lajovic had got the balance right. He shaped the melodies with attention and made sure that every phrase counted. The Saltarello finale was spirited and exciting – a perfect conclusion to a heartwarming symphony.