ESSEX SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA
at Christ Church
A pleasingly full house for the ESO's Russian Repertoire.
Was it the attraction of new conductor Tom Hammond ? The populist playlist – Hall of Fame Favourites all ? Or the soloist, the impressive Simon Callaghan ?
Whichever, the audience was treated to an excellent evening, beginning with that much-loved curtain-raiser, Glinka's Overture to Ruslan and Ludmilla.
The piano concerto was Rach Two. From the opening chords it was clear that Callaghan was in control of this challenging war-horse. His performance won warm acclaim from the audience and the orchestra; we were rewarded with a little Fairy Tale by Nikolai Medtner. Orchestrally, all the big effects were there, though the detail was not always as crisp as the woodwind in the Adagio. But there was real tension at the start of the closing Allegro, and soloist and orchestra [leader Philippa Barton] combined effectively in a stirring climax. I see that conductor and soloist return to the work again soon in Symphony Hall Birmingham; the band this time the British Police Symphony Orchestra – plenty of scope for wordplay there ...
The most polished orchestral playing, though, came in Tchaikovsky's great Fifth Symphony. The foreboding in the Andante, the rhythmically exciting Allegro, the rich sonorities of the big string passages in the slow movement, all came off brilliantly, and the trumpets and horns battled it out thrillingly over the swirling strings in the closing pages.