Saturday, August 14, 2021, Royal Albert Hall, London

Broadcast live on BBC Radio 3 from 7.30 p.m., and shown on BBC Four the following evening from 7 o’clock

Radio 3 was once again in trailer/reminder overdrive for days – to very irritating effect – for this Prom in which Paavo Järvi replaced Santtu-Matias Rouvali (on the cusp of becoming the Philharmonia Orchestra’s next principal conductor). The programme remained as advertised.

Järvi is an old friend of the Philharmonia, and such rapport was in get-go evidence with Prokofiev’s ‘Classical’ Symphony, the outer movements sparkling and pointed. The slow one purred with expression yet the succeeding ‘Gavotte’ was just a little heavy-handed.

Shostakovich’s Ninth Symphony (1945) ended the evening – deceptively light, maybe ironic, with moments of theatre: a message here, a reference there. The performance was brilliantly played as well as revealing, inciting a cast of characters and ambiguous possibilities. The perky opening movement (detail-studded) was followed by a desolate one (spaciously paced, clarinet solo courtesy of Mark van de Wiel). Then the frenzy of the third movement was cut short by dire summonses from trombones (Stalin’s court is now in session), leaving a bassoon to lament and also to ruefully begin the Finale, itself, at least here, under Järvi’s perceptive gaze, on the brink of desperation.

The plaudits afforded Víkingur Ólafsson only made the outer movements of Bach’s F-minor Keyboard Concerto (BWV1056) seem mechanical and clinical, although redemption came with the soliloquy that is the central Largo to which Ólafsson turned his gentle fingers for something tenderly affecting and pin-drop compelling.

Ólafsson also played Mozart’s C-minor Piano Concerto (No.24/K491) in which peerless Philharmonia woodwinds were of particular distinction. Ólafsson himself was admirably unexaggerated if somewhat anonymous yet subtle with dynamics and touch, and enchanting in the slow movement. His outer-movement cadenzas were very effective. (Pace the Radio 3 presenter’s ill-informed comment that K491 is Mozart’s only Piano Concerto with trumpets and timpani: it isn’t, there are a few of them, K466, K467, K503, K537.)

For an encore, further Bach, a transcription of an Organ Sonata (BWV528) slow movement. Heaven! He then returned to Mozart, as arranged by Liszt, the choral Ave verum corpus. Special! A nod to his latest DG release.

Royal Concertgebouworkest – Víkingur Ólafsson plays Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.24, Paavo Järvi conducts Schumann’s Rhenish Symphony [live webcast]

Viking pianist plays Debussy & Rameau (and J. S. Bach) [Deutsche Grammophon]

Pärnu Music Festival 2021 / July 11-18 [live webcasts]