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Review: Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony at RLPO ****

An evening at the Philharmonic Hall generally involves a good spread of musical morsels to satisfy the audience’s appetite.

The menu for this inclement Thursday in Hope Street was more a musical sandwich than a full banquet – Shostakovich proving a pared down filling between doorstep slices of big melody from Wagner and Tchaikovsky.

It’s always diverting to play musical six degrees of separation, but you don’t have to work back very far to find a direct connection between Daniel Müller-Schott and Shostakovich.

The luxuriantly-locked German virtuoso studied with the great Slava Rostropovich, for whom Shostakovich composed his Cello Concerto No 1 in 1959.

The concerto is deceptive; its spare-sounding scoring belying its demanding nature. And while Müller-Schott made it seem effortless, the mopping of his brow suggested beneath an elegant exterior, Dmitri Dmitrievich was giving him something of a workout.

Shostakovich’s DSCH motif runs through the heart of the concerto, shape shifting from the insistent rhythms of the opening allegretto – with Müller-Schott bringing the shadow of a jazz inflection to proceedings – to the later cadenza, sleek and cleanly executed, and the final allegro with its demonic dance a sly nod to the late Uncle Joe.

In the midst of this was a moderato which boasted a lovely swelling lament from the orchestra, over which Müller-Schott layered a soft and elegiac cello, delightfully and delicately done.

Conductor Andris Poga. Photo by Janis Deinats

The evening opened with Wagner’s Mastersingers prelude, delivered with stately, full-bodied tone by the Phil under the baton of Latvian Andris Poga, a rising star on the European stage who conducts with both a firm beat and occasional expansive sweep of his free arm.

Poga, another conductor making his debut at the Phil this season (I say debut, but essentially these are all informal look sees in the hunt for a successor to Vasily Petrenko) led the orchestra with unshowy skill – and they showed their appreciation by staying firmly in their seats and leaving him to take the audience’s applause alone.

That applause came in the wake of an enjoyable performance of Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony, with creamy crescendos in a buoyant opening andante, and a lovely lyrical fortissimo in a second movement which also featured a mellow solo from principal horn Tim Jackson and some crisp playing across the sections.

The valse third movement was light on its toes, and the concert came full circle, emulating Wagner’s meaty melodies with a finale in which the Phil grasped Tchaikovsky’s thumping orchestration, madcap runs, booming crescendos, capering strings and exclamation mark brass and timpani and sent their listeners home with a smile on their faces.

The concert is repeated tonight.

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