An Overture would have helped. As it was we were thrust cold into the opening of Brahms’s grand Violin Concerto. Nevertheless, with every turn accented and punctuated the effect was visceral, an expansive orchestral introduction. Alina Pogostkina gave a quite superb account of the solo part – her instrument gorgeous-sounding and the cadenza was a delight – and there was obvious rapport between her and Xian Zhang. In the Adagio Tom Blomfield’s oboe solo was very attractive and dovetailed Pogostkina beautifully, which contrasted with the bucolic Finale, rasping trumpets accentuating the country-feel of this most uplifting music.
Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony received a quite exceptional account – over the first three movements. Whatever this music may be about, it certainly made one think of its undertones and the idea of oppression and forced loyalty, to quite devastating effect. From the off, the transparency of the orchestral tone compelled; Zhang was in her element and with absolute control. The individual and quiet contributions were of suppressed-but-alive artistic freedom. The second-movement Allegretto recreated some perverse mocking caricature – and all the good for that. The Largo was also superbly realised: the loss of artistic freedom under an oppressive regime must resonate with many, including Zhang, who in the programme described how her father, an instrument-maker, made her a piano because all Western instruments had been burned and factories closed during the Chinese Cultural Revolution. However, the Finale did not hang together in the way the previous movements had. It was also too bombastic and without the crucial sense of forced joyousness – the slow central episode was greatly considered yet the work’s end did not ring hollow, as it needs to. Throughout, the playing was exemplary.