PSO/Jansons, Royal Albert Hall, London

/ Royal Albert Hall, London

In the 2002 Proms, Mariss Jansons gave one of the great performances of Dvorak's New World symphony with the LSO. Twelve months later, in the first of two back-to-back Proms with his own new-world orchestra, he produced the same revelatory treatment for another fixture of the symphonic repertoire, Tchaikovsky's fourth.

Jansons makes such familiar works gleam through his pinpoint control of dynamics. In these two concerts, he achieved the most dramatic effects simply by ensuring that his musicians played at the dynamic level that all interesting composers require.

It helps, of course, to have such outstanding players as those of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, with the long history and financial backing to enable it to compete with America's best. The orchestra is very good, particularly its string section, which can do everything from the beefiest beef to the most delicate gossamer.

Over two nights, Jansons performed just four works, all staples, assuming one gives that status to Beethoven's second symphony, which rarely gets such pride of place and which was paired with the Tchaikovsky in the first concert. The Beethoven was impressively executed, but only took off in the quick-fire scherzo. Inspiration arrived in spades with the Tchaikovsky, a work that is in Jansons's blood. It crackled with tension from the moment he cued the terrifying brass fanfares which cast their shadow across the whole work. It is hard to imagine how this symphony could be played much better.

The second concert had a similar trajectory. Everything was in place in Gil Shaham's faultless account of the Mendelssohn violin concerto, but it lacked something in personality. Mahler's first symphony, by contrast, is a work awash with individuality. But Jansons never got lost in its many byways. From the opening dawn chorus to the exuberance of the final bars, this was an account that was always going somewhere. It was terrific stuff.

These were two traditional Proms evenings. The audience was right to love them, and the Pittsburgh visitors rewarded them with generous encores.


Martin Kettle

The GuardianTramp

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