Sumptuous evening of Russian Delights!

The Westmorland Hall was cold that night – too cold, possibly, for the players’ comfort; fingers would be benumbed and stiff; sensitive music-making may be difficult. O ye of little faith, how wrong can we be! The fingers, lungs, brains and hands of the Hallé players and those of their conductor, Louis Langrée, were immune to such inconveniences and the Lakeland Sinfonia Concert Society’s audience was treated to a sumptuous, warm-hearted evening of Russian delights.

Prokofiev – frequently spiky and confrontational, but far from being so in his Classical Symphony – was well-served by his interpreters. Delicately open, clean-cut classical textures were imbued with sparkle and virtuosity, sweet-toned upper strings work, deft crafting and shaping of phrases and a wonderful awareness of Prokofiev’s dynamic demands.

Tchaikovsky, a man and composer of so many contrasting facets, is seen in his Rococo variations for cello and orchestra as the sensitive, serene, frequently virtuosic but never bombastic, masterful controller of both solo and orchestral material. He surely would have been captivated by Jian Wang’s performance. Here were lovely flowing lines, gorgeous tone, spacious phrasing, dazzling technique throughout (but particularly in the cadenza and other famous awkward passages) and an appreciation of the value of silences and the creation of atmosphere. He must have been conscious, too, of the admirable support he received from his orchestral partners, not only here but in the first of his two encores, a Tchaikovsky Andante cantabile.

Glitter, glamour, power, passion, energy, serenity, peace, beauty and, of course, gloom: such are the ingredients of Tchaikovsky’s 4th Symphony. Goodness! With what persuasion did Langreé guide his charges through this remarkable, beautifully-scored work! He inspired exciting climaxes, exacted atmospheric pianissimos, procured pungent silences and shocked the unwary listener with the powerful immediacy of the finale’s initial chord!

A grande finale carnivale, indeed. But we recall with joy the serenity, peace, beauty and silences embedded in much of the evening’s music and forgot the Trumpian cacophony of the outside world.