Review: Swedish Philharmonia, (Gävle Symphony Orchestra), Leeds Town Hall, Saturday 7th March 2020

FOUNDED 1912 in the Swedish city of Gävle which is roughly the size of Halifax, this venerable band of 60 musicians is currently on a short UK tour led by artistic director and principal conductor Jaime Martín. The orchestra has its own purpose built auditorium, the Gävle konserthus, opened in 1998.

Tchaikovsky’s Symphonic Fantasy after Shakespeare’s Tempest launched the orchestra’s Leeds Town Hall date in dramatic style with, at its emotional core, the love music for Miranda and Ferdinand. The score’s loudest moment came with the resplendent woodwind and strings’ observance of Tchaikovsky’s fffff marking (quintuple forte).

Outstanding Russian violinist Viktoria Mullova then brought her virtuosic insight to the second and most Russian sounding of Prokokiev’s two violin concertos. spikey textures were beautifully clear as Mullova’s mercurial fingers appeared to dance along the strings of her instrument.

Composed almost a century earlier in 1830, the rich sonorities of Mendelssohn’s Symphony No 5 in D minor (Reformation) delivered arguably the most revelatory experience of the evening. The heartsearching Dresden Amen phrase which Mendelssohn quotes three times is, of course, extensively used by Wagner in his sacred music drama Parsifal. The outer movements respectively convey the struggle and triumph of the Lutheran Reformation. A delightful scherzo Allegro vivace, subtly darker in tone than its equivalent in Mendelssohn’s Scottish or Italian symphonies, provides an interlude. The Swedish Philharmonia’s finely wrought performance under Jaime Martín had a luminescent quality. The lingering effect of a cathedral of sound of almost Brucknerian splendour would have been ruined by the sort of blistering encore often favoured by visiting foreign orchestras. Instead, Martín introduced a perfect, gracefully poised account of the enchanting Entracte in B flat from Schubert’s Rosamunde ballet music.

Geoffrey Mogridge