Brooding strings heralded Borodin's splendid fanfares in Prince Igor overture but, in spite of liquid clarinet and a truly Russian solo horn, it soon became apparent that the overall effect was that of an orchestra playing on auto-pilot.

Were they tired, or simply over-exposed to their (for them) all too familiar repertoire? What a pity that strings were note-perfect but bland, basses had no bite, and unsupportive timpani were gutless in this colourful orchestral showpiece.

Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto is a tour-de-force for any soloist but on this occasion one suspected that Sasha Rozhdestvensky had bitten off more than he could comfortably chew.

His fine violin (Guarneri del Gesu: 1734) was no match for an orchestra, its sweet t one swamped in full orchestra passages, in spite of reduced string numbers. Extravagant portamento and unreliable intonation were the hallmarks of this uneasy performance highlighted in a hair-raising cadenza.

Woodwinds were hard pressed to create their dance moments, although bright solo snippets shone through as conductor Valery Poliansky endeavoured to keep everyone on track.

A sense of relief was palpable as a final scramble finished with the inevitable flourish of an up-bow and enthusiastic applause from a generous audience.

A more lively orchestra presented Rachmaninov's rarely performed Symphony No 3, with plenty of challenges in all sections. However, cellos were unconvincing in their rich solos passages, as were disappointing surging upper strings in characteristic Rachmaninov romanticism.

One suspected that gyrations from the rostrum got in the way of any lurking passions.

Thankfully the brass, in particular trumpets, had no qualms in this respect, thor-oughly enjoying themselves, as did spirited percussionists.

<b>Maggie Cotton</b>