Classical: Royal Philharmonic Orchestra / Ilya Musin Barbican Hall, London

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The Independent Culture
A living legend in his native Russia, although yet to make an impression outside professional circles in this country, the grand old man of conducting Ilya Musin took a giant stride towards rectifying matters with a stunning British debut at the Barbican on Saturday. This 92-year- old orchestral wizard has taught many of the younger conductors now before the public, not least our own Sian Edwards and Martyn Brabbins, and having heard the way he utterly transformed the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra on Saturday, the packed audience must have felt it a matter of astonishment that he has not been coaxed over here before.

Although the very reverse of frail, this vigorous nonagenarian clearly felt it wise not to attempt too long a programme. This gave time for a revealing introduction to his art hosted by Sian Edwards, who spoke touchingly about his unique gifts. We were then treated to a short documentary film, showing him at work with young English students who were clearly bowled over by his clarity of mind and bold yet kindly criticism.

When Musin himself eventually strode on, we had been astutely prepared for his very special brand of electricity, his unpretentious devotion to every beat in every bar and his arresting clarity of thought. Could not more such opportunities be taken to prepare audiences for a conductor and orchestra's performance style, giving the subject space in programme books, for instance, instead of wasting time on blow-by-blow accounts of the music? Certainly here listeners seemed instantly attuned to what Musin had to offer, and the rapport was such that, in a rare gesture, the entire hall rose to its feet for the final sustained ovation. A truly unforgettable occasion.

Opening with Mozart's Symphony No 40, Musin quickly focused our attention on details that often get lost - especially the richness of the wind band's contribution - and, although using an enlarged string section, never let the textures clot. His was a romantic approach, but rubato was always subtle and, if tempos were sometimes stately, the symphonic argument was always vitally alive and purposeful.

The orchestra was clearly riveted by Musin's charismatic dedication, but what followed was even more compelling. In Prokofiev's Classical Symphony and Rimsky-Korsakov's Caprice the brilliance of the playing and the astonishing body rhythms that Musin drew from his players carried all before. The sense of danger as the whole orchestra threw itself heart and soul into these demanding scores was electrifying, and music that can sound merely entertaining was encouraged to reveal the mind and spirit beneath its piquant display. May this great musician soon return to our shores.

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