Rimsky-Korsakov, Prokofiev, Tchaikovsky.. all provide us with the brass-busting frills and drama of the Russian composer. It therefore came as a surprise to me that Shostakovich’s 2nd Violin Concerto should hold such inwardly lyrical passages, subtle delicacies and softness that seem to ignore the genre of the Russian Violin Concerto entirely. But with the strong army of the London Symphony Orchestra behind him, Sergey Khachatryan proved he did not need the showman’s tricks to prove his talent.

The fresh-faced Armenian violinist displayed a maturity and understanding of the subtle nuances of piece, written in Stalinist Russia, with much more ease and ability than some of his older competition. What was most impressive was the cadenza in every movement, showing a level of technicality which even the master David Oistrakh believed to be unattainable. This did not seem to faze the casual Khachatryan, who flung his bow onto the string with casual ease and youthful vigour during the second cadenza, conversing between the brass, percussion, and wind solos which seemed to appear out of the darkness. He did not even break a sweat in the final cadenza, which flew at an unstoppable speed, and roared into a reckless and jerky finish. The audience could not let him go now. After a fair few rounds of bowing and applause, he returned to show us his truly awe-worthy musicality with a touching Bach sonata. His version, shimmering and yet solemn, is one of the most moving interpretations I have ever heard. As the audience around me made their way out for the interval, I felt they were experiencing my same glow at having shared some of his magic in what was a whirlwind dream of music.

Tchaikovsky’s Symphony no. 1, written a whole century earlier, could not have been more of a stark contrast to follow. The perfected string section of the LSO, lead by the energetic Roman Simovic, lapped up and indulged in every flying tune which passed. That is not to say the other sections are to be underestimated. The woeful oboe melody in the second movement showed the full strength of the orchestra. Player Nora Cismondi swayed with feeling throughout her solo, while the horns too did not fail to prove their aptitude in the finale. Conductor Gergiev’s trademark fluttering hand movements, which seemed a little unusual to me, certainly did not seem to be putting off the players, and they reacted to every one of his tiny gestures, accelerating into a triumphant coda to finish. This may not be the most accomplished of Tchaikovsky’s Symphonies, but the LSO certainly proved they like a challenge. They explored its highlights with full thrust, leaving me feeling optimistic, humming the tunes the whole tube journey home.

Jessica Hailstone, age 18

Barbican 18th January 2011 London Symphony Orchestra was conducted by Valery Gergiev with Sergey Khachatryan, violin.

Programme: Shostakovich, Violin Concerto no. 2 in C sharp minor, Op.129 Tchaikovsky, Symphony no. 1 in G minor "Winter Daydreams", Op.13

credit: Marco Borgreeve/Naïve