There is a reason why Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto in D and Rachmaninov’s symphony in E minor is such a popular programme with professional and amateur orchestras alike. Both have enough Russian passion, drama and lyricism to keep audiences enthralled for a concert that lasts two hours.
It helps if said programme is performed in the compact Sheldonian Theatre, where it is difficult to tell where the orchestra ends and the audience begins, adding to the intensity of the performance.
Last night the Oxford Philharmonic Orchestra, with soloist Yuri Zhislin and conductor Marios Papadopoulos, delivered a wonderful and engaged performance to a packed concert hall.
The downside to performing popular pieces is, much like when you see a play and are aware of the acting, there is a danger that those in the know will be anticipating the next virtuosic moment, noticing minor errors or making comparisons to other performances, rather than losing themselves in the music. In the first movement of Tchaikovsky’s violin concerto, it was hard not to fixate on a botched run or an uncoordinated entry. Saying that, Zhislin, perhaps due in part to the fact he is co-concertmaster of the Oxford Philharmonic Orchestra, is a very generous soloist, and there was never any concern that the piece would derail.
The second and third movements were much better, taking the audience on a journey from the Romantic nostalgia of the Canzonetta to the frantic rhythms of the Allegro vivacissmo. Here Zhislin lived up to his reputation for versatility.
Rachmaninov, a physically demanding symphony that nevertheless kept the orchestra smiling at each other throughout, followed the interval. The slow and controlled harmonies of the Adagio take as much concentration as the canonic rhythms of the Allegro molto. But all were held together perfectly by Papadopoulos and the orchestra in this impressive performance.
Papadopoulos is the founder and music director of the Oxford Philharmonic Orchestra, and while also an esteemed pianist, has focused his work mainly in Oxford with the orchestra in recent years. He is described in the programme as having “uncompromising artistic standards” for the orchestra – evident from the tightness of the Rachmaninov symphony performance. With their chemistry and bold musicality, Papdopoulos and the Oxford Philharmonic Orchestra are definitely not ones to miss.