St Petersburg Philharmonic, Leeds Town Hall , Saturday, January 28, 2017

THE celebrated St Petersburg Philharmonic and their longstanding music director Yuri Temirkanov have been regular visitors to Leeds Town Hall over the past decade.

Hardly surprising then that the orchestra’s eagerly anticipated programme was a complete sell-out.

Three movements from Khatchaturian’s Spartacus - beginning with the famous Adagio - displayed the magnificent mahogany-rich St Petersburg strings - all 64 of them anchored by nine double basses.

The forces were slimmed down for Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a theme of Paganini. Soloist Nikolai Lugansky’s spectrum of colours and shading of dynamics made every note sound fresh. There was a fleeting, mercurial brilliance to his playing.

The nostalgic 18th Variation cushioned by the burnished strings, woodwind and brass, projected all the lush romanticicism that we could have wished for.

Temirkanov is the most un-showy of conductors. The veteran Russian maestro eschews the use of a baton. His expressive hands and fingers are all that is needed to convey to his players exactly how he wants a particular phrase or note to sound.

Temirkanov’s reading of Rimsky Korsakov’s Symphonic Suite, Scherezade, oozed so much theatricality and kaleidoscopic colours that I was left breathless but elated.

There was just a hint of menace in the brass fanfares. The flexible tempi were perfectly judged in The Sea and Simbad’s Ship. Lev Klychkov, the St Petersburg Philharmonic’s concert master caressed the long phrases of the voluptuous solo violin part -a portrayal of Scherezade herself.

The Story of the Kalendar Prince contains some of the most challenging solos for the four woodwind principals and the trumpets and trombones. Placed on the risers above the flat stage, the resplendent brass had impact and bite; the virtuosity of the percussion was breathtaking. Sweetly seductive woodwind solos and glittery harp textures were exquisitely shaped. But perhaps above all, the luxuriant sheen of the St Petersburg strings left the most indelible impression after this jewel of a concert.

l Geoffrey Mogridge