This was a concert of the contemporaries; Chopin and Schumann were acquaintances who dedicated a short work to each other. A packed Sheldonian in the second half gave a rousing reception to Schumann's Symphony No. 1 ('Spring'), the latest offering in the Oxford Philharmonic's Schumann season. In it the strings excelled, especially considering the demands this work places on them. They are required to be jolly in the two outer movements; in the finale, the two contrapuntal trios came over crisply, punctuated by the coy little starts and stops of the main theme. In the fine 'Larghetto' the strings produced a swelling, moody rhythm, and the many repetitions of melody came up fresh each time.
But first up had come the Chopin Piano Concerto No. 2. It was actually composed before its nominal predecessor by the 19 year-old Chopin. If it doesn't, unsurprisingly, quite aspire to the dazzling heights of his later works, there are ample signs of what's to come, especially in the 'Larghetto' where the pathos is delicate and unforced. I suspect many, if not most, of the audience had turned out primarily to see and hear the controversial soloist, Ivo Pogorelich. Belgrade-born but now living in Lugano, he's a by now long-standing 'enfant terrible' of the concert scene, notorious for his extreme tempos and unpredictability; his concert of February 2015 at the Festival Hall attracted not a little critical opprobrium.
In the event, those anticipating something memorable were richly rewarded. In the 1980s and 90s, Mr Pogorelich was known as someone who, if the whim took him, might play the fast pieces twice as fast as the next soloist. If then he resembled a display of countless fireworks, bursting out in brilliant succession, these days - and on Saturday - it is one firework, set off by a slow fuse and unfolding in slow-time. He strode into the theatre, a tall, slim, commanding, crew-cutted, maroon-bow tied figure, accompanied by his page-turner bearing a well-thumbed copy of the score. And off he went into the dramatic first note. He appeared to play throughout with closed eyes and apart from a couple of glances in the concluding 'Allegro', played from memory, the printed score redundant.
Already lagging behind Chopin's 'Maestoso' marking in the 1st movement, when he began on the 'Larghetto', a Nocturne in everything but name, the pace slowed to a crawl and I thought a couple of times that he was going to actually grind to a halt. Yet despite the snail-like progress and the struggle by the orchestra to match his tempo, the solo part being so dominant in this movement that the conductor is compelled to follow the pace set, the violins' bows poised at the top of their downstroke, in desperate suspense not to pull ahead, somehow there was magic in his fingers as he squeezed out the melody, then the development and then the elaboration.
At the end, as a storm of applause burst out, Mr Pogorelich acknowledged it with deep bows in slow-motion, a severe, formidable figure, perfectly expressionless. A Julius Caesar driven in a chariot through Rome on the day of his Triumph, receiving impassively the applause of the plebeians and planning his next glorious campaign.