In the wake of these preliminaries, however, what we heard was still just a concert, quite a pleasant one, but hardly characterised by a sense of musical occasion to match the event. The proceedings opened in a lively manner, nevertheless, with Gareth Wood's Fanfare: Flying High, which flung together post-Waltonian brass challenges, rushing scales and a few judiciously incorporated modernisms in a rousing mix.
After this preludial offering, we heard another in the shape of Walton's Crown Imperial March, and then yet another in Elgar's Cockaigne overture, fine pieces but hardly calculated to yield the blend of contrasting and complementary qualities that makes for good programme-building. The performances, under the orchestra's principal conductor Yuri Temirkanov, were vigorous and, as far as one could tell from a seat next to the low brass and strings, warmly balanced. With the first and second violins a distant dream, however, and the cellos facing directly away, listening had to be more than usually imaginative.
At this point we heard Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto, and the strong contrast in style and texture certainly freshened our palates. The soloist was Viktoria Mullova, and this demanding work focused perfectly her extraordinary technical accomplishment. The trouble was that, once one had grown accustomed to her ability to make light of the most hair-raising demands, there was little left in terms of expressive warmth or heartening emotion. In fact, the orchestra's beautifully poised wind obbligatos at key lyric moments revealed more of Tchaikovsky's glowing lyricism, and the cantabile paragraphs in which the solo part abounds went coolly on their way without apparently engaging Mullova's deeper feelings.
After the interval, we heard the Mussorgsky / Ravel Pictures at an Exhibition, and Ravel's dazzling orchestral imagination allowed various sections in the orchestra to shine. Most revealing of the arrangement's intentions was the brass section, which brought a sonorous mystery to the extraordinary echo effects of "Catacombs" and a primeval bellowing to "The Hut on Fowl's Legs", probing Mussorgsky's psychological and picturesque strengths in equal measure.
Again, it was not always possible to gain a true impression of the orchestral balance, but the tintinnabulating final pages resonated excitingly, and Temirkanov's characterisation of each perfectly realised picture yielded individual images of striking immediacy, while drawing all together into a satisfying stroll round the gallery.
n The RPO at the RAH: Verdi's Requiem, Sunday 7.30pm. Booking: 0171-589 8212Reuse content