LPO / Perlman, Royal Festival Hall, London

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The Independent Culture

Play it like Perlman - with that special combination of expressive power right out on the edge, hyper-fine technique, and astute awareness of the other musicians that has brought the violinist one of the biggest fanbases in classical music. If a whole orchestra could play it like Itzhak Perlman, would that be something.

He isn't the first great soloist to take up conducting, and he won't be the last to find that doing is one thing; getting others to do, quite another. To start with, his avuncular presence on the rostrum and his eager, encouraging gestures transmit a determination to enjoy. You have barely heard, or played, a note and you are already in feelgood mode.

From the London Philharmonic, he drew fast, fizzy playing of Mozart and Schubert. The Marriage of Figaro overture was played with finely judged accents, as Perlman shaped its phrases as much by rhythm as by lyrical urge. It was the perfect opener. The main event, Schubert's Symphony No 9, is a more ambivalent prospect in which an apparently contented world suddenly opens up to visions of eternity and attacks of panic. Its lighter moments continued the easy vivacity of the Mozart, an achievement in itself since this is not a score that plays or balances itself.

It was hard to put a finger on why this never seemed enough, even during the times when the symphony was not veering off into its constant confrontations with despair. In terms of performance, it did seem to have something to do with orchestral balance, though not in the sense of poor sound - the middle of the score just wasn't as alive as the top and the bass-line. But the deficiency was about vision more than execution.

At least the finale built up an unstoppable momentum and high excitement at a fair old lick - this astonishing music, with its expanses of very fast surfaces and very slow harmonic change, always sounds more timeless and still the quicker that it goes. Before that, the symphony had got off to a plodding, almost complacent start in the inherited ultra-traditional style that adopted Americans can fall for like no other musicians, and after an electrifying acceleration, the performance just skated through the anguished climax and wind-down.

Altogether better was the First Violin Concerto of Prokofiev, in which the young violinist Ilya Gringolts got to the heart of the music's elusive lightness, delicacy and fanciful nature with some deft turns of phrase and an unshowy but awesome technique. Close support from Perlman in chamber-musician guise. Elsewhere, as players-turned-conductors go, this was an Ashkenazy of the baton rather than a Barenboim - but at least not a Menuhin.