The Colston Hall, Bristol

This is where I go for concerts these days. It is a conventional auditorium – now undergoing refurbishment – with a warm acoustic and generally I am perched in the cramped choir seating behind the orchestra. The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra is effectively its resident orchestra, Bristol being one of many of the venues it plays in around the West Country, and now under its American Conductor Marin Alsop. Last week’s concert was conducted by Petra Sakari, one of the brilliant Finns who bring so much skill and finesse to contemporary music-making. And the soloist in the Rachmaninoff 2nd was the Russian Nikolai Lugansky.

Though never lacking in power, Lugansky played this wonderful old war horse with a rare delicacy and wonderful fluency. It was almost as if he was commenting on the music, detached from it and yet fully involved, if it is possible to be both at the same time! Perhaps a little mannered at times and certainly milking the climax of the last movement for every drop of emotion, this was a fascinating performance.

I have since bought his recording of the 1st and 3rd Concertos and have been comparing the latter with Rachmaninoff’s own recording made in 1940. Again the delicacy is especially noticeable against the composer’s robust, no nonsense and powerful performance and it has the added advantage of brilliant support from the C.B.S.O. under another Finn, Sakari Oramo. Now playing on the international circuit, Lugansky is regarded by many as being in the great Russian tradition of Gilels, Richter and Kissin. He is certainly a pianist to watch.

The other excitement of this concert was the performance of extracts from Prokoviev’s Romeo and Juliet ballet. The orchestra had obviously been well rehearsed in this demanding score. The lyrical extracts were very beautiful and the moments of high drama overwhelming, particularly in the Death of Tybalt.

Sitting so near to the orchestra was almost too much; frightening even, especially in this piece: a very terrible death which we almost felt we were sharing. Sakari rightly insisted on the orchestra taking the applause. They had played magnificently. But they in turn refused to stand for the last call, and instead applauded him.

A good concert is an event, an occasion in itself, as this one was.