At just 21, Jamie Phillips is about to become Assistant Conductor with the Hallé Orchestra. He must already be tired of the relentless concentration on his youth, but within minutes of hearing him the assurance of his manner and excitement of his performance drove such thoughts away as we were immersed in the power of the music.
The overwhelming impression was of confidence from both conductor and performers.
Shostakovich’s First Violin concerto received a performance of burning intensity from soloist Amy Tress. In the sorrowful song of the opening Nocturne her whispered pianissimos, half lights, and controlled legato were spellbinding.
The profound third movement Passacaglia was broad and searching, growing to a shattering climax but then subsiding in a beautifully measured way to the cadenza, where Tress moved from forlorn musings to mounting anger, and then on into the bitter finale. Phillips and the orchestra were locked tight into her every turn of phrase, and a sophisticated sense of colour and control of line anchored this bravura performance.
Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony was full of bite and incisiveness. It had great rhythmic freedom, a clear sense of structure, and an electric control of tension. Phillips’ clear gestures were invitations for the musicians to play, not commands for them to perform, and this resulted in many orchestral solos notable for their character and skill.
The oboe solo of the Andantino was beautifully played, and the later reprise of the main theme on the violins with delicious woodwind decorations showed the Birmingham Festival Orchestra at its most sensitive. The pizzicato Scherzo had an unusual degree of dynamic contrasts before Phillips swept us into the manic exhilaration of the finale.