Making his Sheffield debut at this concert was Jamie Phillips, who at the age of 22 has become the Hallé’s youngest ever Assistant Conductor. He was left undaunted by a mammoth programme, which featured three masterworks.
The frantic, energetic opening of Berlioz’s Le carnaval romain was craftily contrasted with a moving cor anglais solo, with Phillips overseeing a fine balance. Subsequently, beautiful lyricism from the strings and dramatic dynamic contrasts contributed to an exciting performance.
Phillips’s exuberance and enthusiasm shone through in such a mature reading; with these attributes, I often found myself comparing him with his mentor, Sir Mark Elder.
Again, in Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto with John Lill as soloist, the conductor displayed a thorough understanding of the score, with an appropriate level of restraint. It is all too easy to subject this concerto to an overly romantic interpretation, but Phillips’s approach was almost Mozartian, with a cleanly articulated accompaniment enhancing its Classical nature.
Lill responded with both power and delicacy, always executing virtuoso passages with facility. Some of his interpretative decisions, however, were questionable. At times, there was too much pedal present – a particular problem during some scalic passages – and at others not enough; for example, in the large broken octaves section in the development.
Although it was clearly evident that Lill is well acquainted with this score, there could have featured a wider palette of tonal colouration to maintain the listener’s attention. That said, the slow movement was sensitively handled, with some wonderful accompanying orchestral solos.
Phillips conveyed an atmosphere of tragedy in Tchaikovsky’s Sixth Symphony with a dark and brooding opening. The prominence and intensity of the brass playing throughout the first movement added a particularly Russian touch.
In spite of the work’s sheer power, though, there was never any self-indulgence on the conductor’s part. Indeed, the second movement was gracefully executed and the third was fittingly balletic. To round off the concert, the famous finale was passionate, with well-controlled dynamic contrasts helping capture the solemnity.