London Philharmonic Orchestra makes a long-overdue return to Colston Hall

Rebecca Franks enjoys a performance from cellist Sol Gabetta and the London Philharmonic Orchestra

Sol Gabetta
Photo: Marco Borggreve

It’s been almost a decade and a half since the London Philharmonic Orchestra played in Bristol’s Colston Hall. After Sunday’s glowing concert, let’s hope this West Country city doesn’t have to wait that long to hear them again. This was an afternoon of wit and warmth, joy and melancholy – with the orchestra’s polished and passionate playing resoundingly and deservedly applauded. Vassily Sinaisky was the assured, unfussy conductor.

Prokofiev’s Classical Symphony of 1917, which opened the concert, was deftly executed and its quirky elegance – from the laidback lyricism of the Larghetto to the virtuosic, colourful Finale – well judged. The strings were particularly rich and burnished; the wind and brass characterful.

Elgar’s haunting Cello Concerto followed, its rhetorical solo cello opening leading us into a private, personal world of intimate confession and impassioned outburst. Sol Gabetta was the impressive soloist: there’s an ethereal quality to the Argentine cellist’s playing, and in hushed passages she manages the trick of both projecting her sound and playing ever so quietly. Yet in the Adagios the tempos seemed to stagnate, while some of the articulations sounded mannered to my ears.

After sunny Prokofiev and darkly hued Elgar, the London Philharmonic Orchestra turned to Sibelius. His Second Symphony in D, written after a spell in Italy, is one of the most popular of his seven symphonies. Motifs interlace the movements, giving the piece an organic feel, and there are some great tunes to relish. It’s full of struggle, light and dark tousling for supremacy. Murky shadows (the bassoon and tuba are used to great effect) are, ultimately, dispelled by blazing bursts of brightness (the brass shining through).

Sometimes described as a ‘Symphony of Independence’ – was Sibelius thinking of Finland’s fight to free itself from Russia? – here the journey felt human and individual, its twists and turns compellingly revealed by the orchestra. Funnily enough, though, it was that wonderful three-note motif opening which stuck with me: the LPO creating a wonderful surge of warm string sound that was irresistible.

Find out more about Colston Hall's classical season.