REVIEW: Philharmonia Orchestra at Cambridge Corn Exchange is ‘a wonderful concert of the best there is in music’

Esther Yoo

Esther Yoo - Credit: Archant

The Philharmonia Orchestra is undoubtedly one of the world’s finest and the depth of knowledge and understanding developed over its 50 years of experience was amazing.

The rich sounds, intuitive precision and expressive musicality these fine musicians engendered made the music come alive. They were inspired by a wonderful conductor, Vladimir Ashkenazy, who had lost nothing of the energetic vivacity and artistic flair I witnessed when he performed as a concert pianist in Peterborough Cathedral over thirty years ago.

The concert also featured the renowned violin soloists, Esther Yoo, and her phenomenal technique and empathy for the inner soul of the music were breath-taking.

In addition, a young composer and a number of young players were introduced, as part of the orchestra’s education programme. Jay Richardon’s composition ‘Laulan’ (I sing) added spice to an already fascinating series of compositions.

The concert opened with Rachmaninov’s ‘The Rock’, and it was soon clear that the musicians were encouraged to luxuriate over the delicious sounds of this work under the influence of the conductor fellow Russian, Vladimir Askenazy. The emotional pull of grand sweeping episodes contrasted seamlessly and effectively with thinner lines that gave the composition its appeal.

Then Esther Yoo played the Violin Concerto in D minor op. 47 by Sibelius and the effect was electrifying. Esther’s stamina, intuition and amazing virtuosic technique made every phrase of this familiar concerto meaningful. The cohesive flow of rapid notes over all ranges of the violin, the depth of tone in the second movement and the pulsating impact of the marked rhythms of the final movement infused the work with rare vivacity.

Jay’s composition kept us in the realms of Finland and its magical qualities and the siren-like singing of the eerie sounds these performers produced under the guidance of this up and coming composer, brought wonderful images of stretches of Finnish lakes to mind. Also, the way in which slides were naturally incorporated in its haunting, sparse texture was most effective.

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The final work of the programme was Rachmaninov’s Third Symphony no. 3 in A minor and this full and wholesome work incorporated only a little of Rachmaninov’s melancholic intervals that I had always associated with him. This work was packed with the goodie-goodie feel of Hollywood Americanism that conductor and orchestra revelled in wonderfully. Their expertise was able to juxtapose perfectly many delightful quirky Americanisms with sweeping heart-warming harmonies, occasional moments of complex tightly overlapping melodies and tremendous climaxes.

This was indeed a wonderful concert of the best there is in music.

The next event in Cambridge Classical Concert Series will be on Tuesday April 26 with Dame Evelyn Glennie in conversation with Libby Purves. Tickets can be purchased from or by calling 01223 357851.