Philharmonia / Nelsons / Lugansky - Royal Festival Hall, 28 February 2010
What's the secret to selling out the Royal Festival Hall? Timing. A 3pm start on a Sunday guarantees seats will be snapped up by grannies who don't like going out after dark, kids who aren't allowed to stay up late, and coachloads from outside the M25 who want to get home before midnight. And there's the added bonus of no competing classical attractions. The hall was packed, yet a similar (arguably better) programme from the same artists on Thursday night has so far attracted only half the numbers.
A Sunday matinee regular told me it's the same story every concert. And when I visited Birmingham last year on a weekday afternoon, I found a healthy audience there too. So why aren't there more afternoon concerts? Are events scheduled for the convenience of the artists and the venues alone? Why can't organisations subsidised by taxpayers' money make more of an effort to give as many people as possible the opportunity to attend?
A swift and punchy La forza del destino Overture made an anomalous start to the Rachmaninov-heavy programme - and it took longer to rearrange the stage afterwards than it did to perform it - but at least it whetted the appetite for some full length Verdi from Andris Nelsons (none scheduled as far as I know).
The muscularity and accuracy of Nikolai Lugansky's playing didn't quite compensate for its lack of poetry and passion in Rachmaninov's Second Piano Concerto, but at least Nelsons whipped up the Philharmonia into something approaching excitement.
His exuberance doesn't rub off on the Londoners quite as readily as it does on his own CBSO, but they succumbed in Rachmaninov's Symphonic Dances, quite the most vivid and thrilling playing I've heard from them in ages. Leaping around the podium like a monkey who's spotted a banana on the other side of the bars, Nelsons cuts a lanky, ungainly figure, and I sometimes wondered how the band could follow his beat. Yet somehow the three movements were beautifully paced to culminate in the mad, spiralling dance of death. He coaxed clear and incisive playing, always beautifully balanced, and avoided vulgar overstatement despite the temptations inherent in the vivid, expressive writing.
And all over in time for tea.