Review: St Petersburg Philharmonic Orchestra, Leeds Town Hall, Saturday 2nd February 2019

YURI Temirkanov, the St Petersburg Philharmonic's venerable music director was sadly unwell and has withdrawn from the orchestra's current UK itinerary. Vassily Sinaisky, Temirkanov's replacement, augured well for admirers of the legendary "St Petersburg sound". In the event, Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto No 2 was a revelation. Gone was the turgid romanticism often associated with this composer. Instead - flexible tempos, a focused and incredibly warm sound with every voice in the orchestra clearly delineated by Sinaisky. Soloist Freddy Kempf was supported by silken strings thinned down with just six double basses. The resulting textures achieved the delicacy of chamber music; pierced from time to time by a ravishing solo flute, clarinet or burnished golden french horns. Kempf's mercurial lightness of touch created a rainbow spectrum of colours that was never swamped, even by the loudest tuttis.

The full Orchestra, including sixty strings and a large percussion department, assembled on stage for Mahler's Symphony No 4. The oak panelled richness of the ten double basses, and the two harps positioned above the main body of strings made for an impressive sight - and sound. This is Mahler's most beguiling symphony with some of his most caressing melodies. Sleigh-bells feature prominently in the opening movement and in the song-cycle finale. The second movement scherzo and trio has a rustic flavour complete with "scordatura" solo violin, slightly tuned down and played on this occasion by long-haired concertmaster Lev Klychkov. A stupendous coda interrupts the serenity of the third movement - the heart and soul of this symphony. Sinaisky's finely judged pacing and his layering of textures created an enchanting soundworld that supported (in the final movement) rather than competed with soprano Anna Devin's beautifully clear account of the Songs from Das Knaben Wunderhorn - truly a vision of heaven. An enthralled capacity audience demanded and were duly given an encore - a translucent performance of the magical Amoroso from Prokofiev's ballet Cinderella.

Geoffrey Mogridge