A Leicester concert-goer's diary
The Leicester concert scene has been lucky once again to be visited by some outstanding musicians, two new to the city. In the first Philharmonia concert of the year, charismatic trumpet player Alison Balsom arrived like a meteor.
One would never have imagined the trumpet to be capable of such a range of tone.
In this instance, playing the Hummel Concerto she needed all her virtuosity. Its programming after Beethoven's 2nd Symphony drew attention to the sharp contrast between Hummel's accomplishment and Beethoven's genius.
Young Finnish conductor Santu Rouvali's debut with the orchestra was equally outstanding.
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He looked as if he were a teenager and yet he drew playing from the seasoned musicians in Bizet's only Symphony that reminded one this was once a Thomas Beecham favourite.
Shutting one's eyes, one wondered whether the old man was revisiting De Montfort Hall.
Old favourites have also been performing. Charles Owen played twice in three days, at a Midday Concert with the Heath Quartet in an intensely dramatic performance of Brahms's Piano Quintet.
There has been no finer string sound heard in this season's Midday series than in this young quartet's performance of Tippett's radiant first Quartet.
With Leicester Symphony Orchestra (LSO), Owen was giving his first performance of that old war horse, the Grieg Piano Concerto.
It came up like new paint, both strong and lyrical as if being discovered anew.
The LSO, under new conductor John Andrews, also seemed to have had a touch of paint.
Vladimir Ashkenazy came riding into town to collect an honorary doctorate from the University of Leicester before conducting the Philharmonia.
In truth, though, the concert did not start very well.
Nathan Borentstein's The Big Bang and Creation of the Universe was that welcome but unusual thing in Leicester, a contemporary work.
Unfortunately, to this listener the title belied pleasant music which seemed never to measure up to the grandness of the programme notes.
In Mozart's 21st Piano Concerto, under Tamara Stefanovich's fingers, the De Montfort grand once again sounded steely and, while there were some felicitous moments, they were rare.
One was keeping fingers crossed that after the interval the new doctor would breathe life into the concert with a performance to remember of Mahler's 4th Symphony.
That is exactly what we got.
Ashkenazy does not always get whip-crack ensemble, but he is quite wonderful at making music take flight and encouraging musicians to play with love.
This performance was filled with breathtaking moments from every part of the orchestra.
Throughout, Ashkenazy ensured the frequent changes in mood cohered, rising inevitably to Mahler's final sublime vision of Paradise in which the soprano Elizabeth Watts – in lovely voice – soared into another realm, taking us with her.
It is events such as this that justify Leicester being thought a centre of culture.