The Organ

London Philharmonic Orchestra

Southbank Centre's Royal Festival Hall
9th November, 2007

Wagner: Overture, Rienzi
Rachmaninov: Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini
Berlioz: Symphonie Fantastique

Conductor: Vassily Sinaisky
Piano: Sunwook Kim

This programme promised an evening of excitement and variety in the superbly refurbished space of the Royal Festival Hall.

The overture to Wagner's early opera Rienzi allowed the orchestra to demonstrate its ability to exercise precision and dynamic delicacy. Opening with an exposed trumpet solo, it was evocative of a triumphant celebratory procession. Wagner's beloved brass shone through and the orchestra performed with control, clarity and beauty. Although there was a somewhat comical 'oompah-band' feel, the relatively simple harmonies proved satisfying.

Rachmaninov's Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini is always a major draw on a programme schedule. Ever since its premier in 1934 it has soared deservedly in popularity. The pairing of an immensely experienced and revered conductor and a talented young pianist proved fruitful. Indeed, Sunwook Kim turned out to be something of a revelation. The 19 year old Korean not only displayed maturity and composure but also real emotion and attention to detail. Playing from memory, the competition winner captivated and engaged. Throughout the piece, the orchestra played with aplomb, combining sensitivity in accompaniment with talented delivery of individual section performances.

The aptly named Symphonie Fantastique followed the interval. Berlioz was ahead of his time in composing this work, packed with nuance and innovative timbres. Writing the piece during a tempestuous relationship with Harriet Smithson, he managed to immortalise his feelings for her in music. The schizophrenic, unsettling quality of the first movement, with its complex rhythmic passages and colourful tone, set the scene. After a peaceful and more rustic interlude the darkness returned in the March to the Scaffold. In the final movement Berlioz imagines his detested former lover taking part in a Witches' Sabbath. The grotesque parodies and unearthly orchestral effects made for compelling listening, and there were some strong individual performances.

Throughout the evening, Vassily Sinaisky conducted with real class and displayed a scholarly and classical approach, and the London Philharmonic conveyed excellently the passion of the emotive works. The evening that had promised much did not disappoint.

Kathryn Taylor and Jonathan Kendon