Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra/Chailly, Barbican Hall, London

Barbican Hall, London

A clumsy piece of scheduling brought the Leipzig Gewandhaus and the Budapest Festival Orchestra to London on the same night. Mighty, historic ensembles both, but up at the Barbican, Riccardo Chailly's Leipzig band left none of the audience doubting their choice.

Early on, admittedly, they might have doubted Chailly's tempos. The first movement of Brahms's Violin Concerto was so languidly paced that at several points it seemed the music might stop altogether. Yet, while Chailly lingered at turning points, bringing the dark-tinted violas forward in the balance, the music was somehow always drawn onwards. The second movement, similarly, went past mere heart-on-sleeve poignancy and became something monumental.

Few violinists could match this approach and still make the solo line interesting - few but the extraordinary Leonidas Kavakos. With effortless energy and astonishing bow control, he seemed able to equal any body of sound the orchestra could produce, and if the elegance of his playing occasionally admitted passages of head-banging forcefulness, it was all of a piece with Chailly's muscular interpretation.

Sandwiched between this and Tchaikovsky's similarly colossal Fourth Symphony, Arvo Pärt's Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten lost its impact. But the Tchaikovsky was thrilling, and more impetuously paced than the Brahms might have led us to expect. The full brass, on the platform for the first time, sounded initially hard-edged, but the strings demonstrated the distinctive sound that has made this orchestra great - a warm, bottom-heavy sweep, the violins the glaze on top rather than the main event.

The second and final encore, the frenzied Fight from Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet, was not only a brazen display of orchestral bravura, but a massive two fingers to anyone who doubted the Gewandhaus were the best orchestra in town that night.


Erica Jeal

The GuardianTramp

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