It was a programme of fathers and children – and brothers, or Fratres. The string orchestra and lone percussionist assembled, Usher Hall house lights dimmed to darkness. The rising, red-tinted lights revealed Kristjan Järvi at the podium. Gimmick? I thought not. This version of Fratres is, in my view, the most 'monastic' of the seven in existence, in that individuality yields to community. Applause for the arriving maestro would surely have undermined this aesthetic.

Kristjan Järvi © Peter Rigaud
Kristjan Järvi
© Peter Rigaud
A study in gradual growth and recession, Fratres' nine sections consist of a four-note phrase, extended to six and then to eight; each iteration strays further from the central note on which it begins and ends. These melodies are then inverted. Thickening textures hold our attention and dynamics were beautifully handled here. The muscular entry of lower strings announced the unmissable climax and the following section's gentle diminuendo was subtly executed.

Much of Pärt's music is based on what he calls tintinnabuli (bells) – simple three-note chords. Fratres is no exception although notes of its three triads are spread across the work's ten-minute duration, each initiating a new section. In the midst of meditative stasis, their shift ensures that we experience varying expressions of the music's angular, minor scale DNA. This was most strikingly apparent in the 'chorus' featuring RSNO Associate Principal Cellist Betsy Taylor, at that moment the embodiment of individual within community.

Paradox peppers Pärt's 1971 three-movement Symphony No. 3. There are numerous moments for paired instruments where the necessity of synchrony and blending might make one feel more exposed than when playing alone. The work opens with such a moment; John Cushing's clarinet and Katy MacKintosh's oboe breathed as one.

Dedicated to Estonian-born RSNO Conductor Laureate Neeme Järvi (Kristjan's father), the work thrives on contrast more than the homogeneous Fratres: the singularity of Russian Orthodox chant is offset by more complex polyphony; the peaceful coexists with the strident; the contemplative with the impish. The last of these was perfectly demonstrated in a passage alternating solemn strings with frolicsome wind. There were several striking solo moments, notably John Gracie's trumpet and Dominic Hackett's timpani. The vigour of the latter chimed with a line from Femke Colborne's programme note where she described Pärt's unlikely musical beginnings as an army drummer. This was a fine performance of an unfamiliar work to which I will surely return.

Anoushka Shankar © Simon NYC
Anoushka Shankar
© Simon NYC
Reduced forces greeted us after the interval, for example four double basses as opposed to the previous eight. In addition to these balance-ensuring measures Anoushka Shankar used subtle amplification in her father Ravi Shankar's Sitar Concerto No. 2 Raga-Mālā (Garland of Ragas). So crucial is the issue of balance that Anoushka Shankar travels with a personal technician to ensure that the instrument's subtleties do not perish in the battle for decibels. This contingency really paid off and clarity was excellent throughout.

Various elements are balanced in such a work of East-West synthesis: the written and the improvised (memorised); the inclusion of instruments not readily found in Indian musical culture. Sensitive, intelligent scoring was key here. Pippa Tunnell's excellent harp skills were pivotal in mediating the meditative and the boisterous. Often detailed to provide a rhythmic ostinato, against which Shankar could enjoy freestyle cadenzas, Tunnell also flourished many Indian-sounding arpeggios, mirroring the various tunings of the sitar's 'sympathetic strings'.

Shankar also paired up with various orchestral individuals in short dialogues, amongst the most memorable of which featured David Hubbard's bassoon. Sitar cadenzas varied from the reflective to the athletic, the latter variety being quite gripping.

This was in many ways as much a concerto for orchestra as for soloist and many RSNO members enjoyed a moment in the sun. Possibly the most Indian sounding was Leader, James Clark's wonderful violin solo. John Cushing's clarinet sounded truly improvisatory, almost like an Indian Benny Goodman. The percussion section, who received a huge cheer at the end, enjoyed an excellent team cadenza. These players were pivotal to the performance; the phenomenon of a man in white tie and tails laying down a solid bongo groove seemed emblematic of multiculturalism. Other excellent team moments involved avian flutes, whiplashingly stratospheric trumpets and, in my favourite riff, two-man tintinnabuli trombones.

Järvi's manner was the antithesis of the archetypical romantic western conductor, striving to steer an odds-on behemoth. Rather, he seemed to be inside the music, enjoying it and, at various moments, dancing. This belief in, as opposed to control of, the music chimed with the ethos of the work and of the programme as a whole.

The heroine of the piece was undoubtedly Shankar, whose impeccable playing was heard to quieter effect in a lovely solo encore - her own composition Monsoon.

****1