Expectations of the Russian National Orchestra performance at this year's EIF were high and its attractive programme – even the Shostakovich symphony – was enthusiastically received by a capacity Usher Hall audience.
A comparative youngster, being founded only in 1990, its touring success and reputation for excellence is the envy of many more venerable bodies. The sheer volume of sound emanating from just short of 100 musicians certainly filled the hall and their technical proficiency could not be faulted.
There were certainly no audible flaws in the opening number. There was well-rounded fullness to the Coriolan overture and richness from the massive string section.
But yet, there was something lacking.
Perhaps it was the short-notice replacement conductor -- founder conductor Michael Pletnev withdrew to fight sex charges in Thailand. Perhaps it was uncertainty about the future as a private orchestra which has just had its first financial State support or even the strain of a Festival appearance following a BBC Proms date so closely.
Vadim Repin stood impassive on the platform, dazzling the audience with his swift dexterity in the violin concerto. Despite his undoubted virtuosity, the end product lacked warmth and feeling.
It was, however, rapturously received. And his predominantly pizzicato encore, with echoing pizzicato contributions from individual instrumentalists and string sections was a much more lively affair.
The Shostakovich symphony was new to many of the listeners and surprisingly witty in its recurrent snatches of the well-known William Tell overture in the playful first movement. Subsequent movements were more sombre but full of phrases from his earlier works and other composers. Throughout the symphony there were numerous solos from various instrumentalists, the most profound being a lengthy trombone soliloquy in the second movement. The adagio beginning the final movement owed much to its Wagner references and the full strength of the RNO was stunning and almost deafening.
At times in the symphony orchestra and conductor seemed at odds. Despite all the technical expertise and the enthusiastic, prolonged applause, many in the departing throng felt that the whole could have been much better.
One regular Festival-goer said: “It was almost mechanical. Most of the orchestra seemed semi-detached and played without feeling”.
The performance was on 19 August