An all-Russian programme is not necessary to pull in the customers, as the capacity audience proved, after enjoying a mixed programme from the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra.
Berlioz's seemingly endless, and aimless concert overture, King Lear, bemused the listeners after the carefully paced introduction. Ghostly snatches of almost familiar phrases, a doom-laden oboe solo, curious pleading violins, uncertain horns and fleeting bright brass passages were knitted together by flamboyant conductor, Yuri Simonov, but his was not an enviable task in this rarely performed, tedious work.
Familiar ground for the audience and soloist Tim Hugh, but a first for the orchestra, Elgar's Cello Concerto was a fine contrast. From the outset the mellow cello tone was totally captivating, with only the occasional risk of being masked by orchestral forces, such as eager encroachment at the edges of some solo areas. Spectacular solo spiccato scampering compared brilliantly with breathtaking tutti pianissimos in the accompaniment, which was careful and caring. However, overstated long pauses and audible snorts from the soloist in the slow movement, tended to disengage mental continuity for listeners.
Home ground came with Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony. Simonov highlighted much of the colourful texture with distinctive crescendos, bright woodwind sparks glinting through string swirls, growling basses.
One of the delights when hearing visiting orchestras is their characteristic sound production. We were not disappointed, as the rounded horn solo could only have been from Mother Russia.
Five encores, laughter from a delighted crowd, smiles and gentle clowning from the maestro eventually sent us on our way. A concert to remember.