Novosibirsk Philharmonic Orchestra, Leeds Town Hall, Saturday 11th May 2019

THE famous Novosibirsk Philharmonic Orchestra from Siberia is currently touring the UK under the baton of Thomas Sanderling, the band’s chief conductor. Perhaps not surprisingly, Leeds Town Hall was jam packed for the occasion.

Oddly, Rimsky-Korsakov’s exuberant Capriccio Espagnol took a while to reach lift-off. The opening Alborada seemed ponderous and exposed horn passages had some rough edges. The last two sections of this popular orchestral showpiece were the best: sultry flute and clarinet solos in the Scene and Gypsy Song led into an absolutely sizzling Fandango Finale.

A lengthy platform rearrangement followed to enable the grand piano to take centre stage for Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a theme of Paganini. A thinning down of strings would have achieved crisper orchestral textures as a foil for Sergei Redkin’s articulation and mercurial lightness of touch in these immensely challenging variations. The Siberian pianist’s elegant phrasing and dynamic arching of the big tune in the majestic 18th Variation never descended into an excess of romanticism.

Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No 6 in B minor (Pathetique) produced the most thrilling experience of the evening. The searing intensity of the long first movement opened by those softly foreboding cellos and double basses, an underlying sadness in the sumptuous waltz-like allegro, and the triumphant march-like third movement held the audience in thrall. Tchaikovsky’s finale, a slow burning adagio, is one of the most profound expressions of despair in all music. Thomas Sanderling realised the full devastating force of the climactic falling phrases and the dry-as-dust final notes from the seven double basses. His expressive hands held the silence for a few precious seconds before the rising crescendo of applause. Maestro and orchestra duly obliged with more Tchaikovsky - the glittery harp textures and storming brass fanfares of the great Pas de Deux, from Act 2 of the Nutcracker.

The Novosibirsk Philharmonic play works by Tchaikovsky and Mussorgsky at Bradford St George’s Hall on Friday 24th May at 7.30pm.

Geoffrey Mogridge