Vienna Tonkunstler Orchestra * * *
at Symphony Hall, Birmingham
Review by Christopher Morley

Kristjan Jarvi became the third member of his family dynasty (after father Neeme and elder brother Paavo) to conduct at Symphony Hall, bringing his versatile Vienna Tonkunstler Orchestra in a programme reflecting his typically varied interests.

In Jarvi's portfolio, contemporary music rubs shoulders with established repertoire, and here we opened with a tingling, energising account of John Adams' Slonimsky's Earbox.

This is a compendious tribute to Russian composers, Stravinsky to the fore, but the Bartok of The Miraculous Mandarin is a strong presence too in this virtuoso showpiece which highlighted all the orchestra's skills - not least the busy percussion and an omnipresent, continuo-like pianist.

Just across the Baltic Sea from Jarvi's native Estonia lies Finland, and there is an obvious artistic empathy between the two countries.

The conductor supplied a sympathetic, spirited and zestful accompaniment to Nicola Benedetti's well-characterised account of the Violin Concerto by the latter country's greatest composer, Sibelius.

Her tone solitary and vulnerable at first, growing in assertion and spinning a tensile narrative line which nothing could snap, Benedetti charted us confidently through the music's meandering structure, culminating in efficient, exhilarating delivery of the finale's gruelling moto perpetuo. The technique is remarkable, not least her ability to bring out multiple voices in double-stopping (stunning octaves, for example), and her energetic cross-string bowing.

Second violins and violas swapped places after the interval (in the cellos' customary position), for a disappointing reading of Beethoven's Symphony no.5.

String-playing was supple, and woodwind projected beautifully. But in a spectacularly swift performance, the first two movements going for nothing, this seemed less about Beethoven and more about showing the pizazz Jarvi could achieve with his orchestra.