Symphony Orchestra of India review


Symphony Hall ****
Still only a fledgling, the Symphony Orchestra of India is spreading its wings on its first-ever UK tour. Beginning it in Symphony Hall, one of the world's finest, puts its subsequent performing venues somewhat in the shade, but at least here all the orchestra's remarkable qualities were easily apparent.
The string tone is softly cushioned, and from this texture topped by delicate violins the violas emerge as a genuine presence, the cellos sings eloquently, and the basses underpin with significance. Woodwinds have character (not least the brilliant piccolo, which had so much to do in this concert), brass are both noble and incisive, percussion need a little more subtlety.
Highlight of the evening was Peshkar, a concerto for tabla and orchestra performed by its composer, Zakir Hussain (his name misprinted on the programme-cover), and a work whose western influences are dominated by the open intervals of Aaron Copland's prairie-evoking music, but whose Indian rhythmic modes are scintillatingly prevalent.
Hussain's busy hands (not least his right-hand little finger) conjured allusive sounds from his two drums. There was a constant tonality in their background which governed the orchestral writing, and the result was a triumph of east meeting west (I know the conductor doesn't like the idea of "fusion").
And the conductor was the elegant, clear-beating and obviously assiduous rehearser Zane Dalal (I would love to hear him conduct The Rite of Spring).
He framed Peshkar with a brilliant Berlioz Roman Carnival Overture and a stirring Rimsky-Korsakov Scheherazade. We could have done with more drama from the concertmaster's violin solos, but the whole concept worked well as chamber-music played on a huge symphonic canvas.
The encore could not have been more topical and politically appropriate: The Magnificent Seven.
Christopher Morley

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