This was Dalia Stasevska’s debut as the BBC Symphony Orchestra’s new principal guest conductor – an appointment that makes her, at 34, both the youngest person and the first woman to hold a titled conducting post at a major London orchestra. The players’ responsiveness to her suggests a strong rapport already developing; the silence in a packed Royal Albert Hall at the end of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No 6 suggests that she can hold an audience in her hand just as surely. It had been the bleakest of endings to a stirring performance of the symphony, spirited and with a few edges left raw, its dark moments made more vivid by the BBCSO players’ grittiness.
Opening the concert, Sibelius’s Karelia Suite had likewise sounded familiar yet fresh, the middle movement fluid and pensive, the outer ones skipping along, feet barely touching the ground, the orchestra always ready to move when Stasevska whipped things up.
Between these two there was something new, at least for London audiences: the Cello Concerto by Mieczysław Weinberg, a more richly lyrical work than you might expect from the musically proscriptive USSR of the 1950s. Sol Gabetta, who has recently been its champion, shaped the first movement into one long, slowly blossoming melody, and whirled through the livelier passages, even if the orchestra didn’t always share her urgency. The return to the opening music at the end was movingly done. Her encore – Casals’s haunting arrangement of a Catalan folksong, for which she was joined by three of the BBCSO cellists – was further proof that even the Albert Hall can feel like an intimate venue if the performer gets it right.