Photo, Mark Allan

Sunday, July 16, 2023

Royal Albert Hall, London

Andrea Tarrodi’s Birds of Paradise started the show, cacophonous birdsong competing for attention until a forest clearing allows a view of the sky and the feathered friends head for new horizons; music of colour and effects. Beethoven’s First Symphony was initially coy and distant, only coming fully to the ears in the exposition (or the earlier remoteness was a temporary engineering blip), Pekka Kuusisto encouraging vivid incidents and dynamics within nippy speeds for all four movements played with camaraderie … and with some audience singing (well, an attempt) to kickstart the Finale (there are ruder ways of saying “go away!”). As for Vivaldi’s seasonal trek (the first four Violin Concertos of Il cimento dell’armonia e dell’inventione) this was Kuusisto in top form as soloist for an amalgam of Vivaldi’s twelve movements and folksy things, beginning with a sweet Swedish air, and elsewhere. There was never any doubt that Kuusisto would embellish, that the ensemble playing would be robust and vibrant, and – potentially – clapping everything would ruin and extend the whole: fortunately Kuusisto soon put a stop to that, sort of, when a Concerto had finished, if not before! There was whimsy, such as the Finale of Beethoven Seven heralding its ‘Spring’ counterpart; otherwise fire and ice, scintillation and serenity, haze, musical departures and invented connections, ear-catching continuo… If the Beethoven vocals were a Kuusisto own goal, the Vivaldi-plus was not; neither offensive nor illuminating, simply a fifty-minute sequence, a once-only curiosity.