Randall Goosby and Philharmonia at Southbank Centre
A rainy Thursday evening and Festival Hall is packed. Three fairly short pieces: Sibelius’s Karelia Suite, Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, and Shostakovich Symphony No 9. They fit well together, all of them celebratory, energetic, nationalistic and jubilant.
Once an overture and nine movements, Karelia is now performed as a three-movement concert suite, and taps into early Finnish nationalism and the need to find a truly Finnish identity (Karelia being the eastern region of what was, before the 19th century, an area controlled by Russia and Sweden). Aside from one flat moment in the horns, this was a lively and energetic performance – much more satisfying than the dull rendition of youth orchestra days.
Still at Juilliard, and signed exclusively to Decca Classics, American violinist Randall Goosby plays a muscular, heavy Tchaikovsky. The first and third movements demand virtuosity and grit, which Goosby displays in spades. His tone is silky, though he breaks more than a few bow hairs. He is an extroverted player, frequently sparking off the conductor (especially in the playful third movement), and almost dancing with the orchestra at times. There could have been a more tender second movement, but the audience gave a standing ovation, and Goosby returned to play a solo encore – a very appropriately discordant bluesy number in preparation for the second half.
After the interval was Shostakovich’s ninth symphony. Following the darkness of Leningrad and his bleak eighth symphony, this was meant to be a victorious work concerned with the greatness of the Russian people and the liberation by the Red Army, and to that end involved a chorus and solo singers. This was shelved by the long shadow of Beethoven’s ninth and creative doubt, and, by the time he returned to the score, it was very different – in his own words: “… a transparent, pellucid, and bright mood predominates”. The Philharmonia captures this mood very well, and praise is due to the woodwind in particular, especially for the demanding and lengthy bassoon solo.
Photo: Sisi Burn