For his first concert as principal guest conductor, Sakari Oramo gave a novel twist to the overture-concerto-symphony format by juxtaposing Elgar’s Symphony No. 1 with Messiaen and Elliott Carter.
But it all changed on Saturday when Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov became the first-half substitutes.
Even so, Oramo had a few surprises up his sleeve, with opening highlights from Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty far from routinely fashioned, and the fastest Valse I have ever heard.
Those who had come along to wallow in the slushy excesses of Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2 also got more than they bargained for.
Quite simply, with Russian wunderkind Nikolai Lugansky bestriding the keyboard like a colossus, this was a sensational account, and one that breathed new life into the old warhorse.
Lugansky’s playing – lustrously focused and brilliantly secure, with passagework hewn from solid gold rather than the pretty jewels some pianists offer – was impressive enough by itself.
And Oramo was no less forthcoming in his support, encouraging the CBSO to play flat out with vibrantly enunciated winds, mahogany-rich string tone and a barely-contained passion.
Just as distinctive was his interpretation of the Elgar symphony, which seemed to spring from the notes on the page rather than a programmatic sub-text.
Indeed, by refusing to engage in pathos, Oramo made the work even more vividly alive as an expression of despair and frustrations.
Aside from obvious “romantico” moments (the adagio was glowingly lovely) this was Elgar at his most energetic, uncompromising and, at times, angry.
Played by a watchful orchestra supercharged in every department it was a compelling, unsettling performance – and should be committed to CD without delay.