By John Rushby-Smith

Given before a capacity audience, the Philharmonia Orchestra’s Sunday evening concert was devoted to four contemporary composers. Contemporary with each other, that is. The youngest among them, Igor Stravinsky, was drawn first. His ever-popular Firebird Suite was given a rousing performance beneath the accomplished baton of Christopher Warren-Green, who replaced the indisposed Diego Matheuz. If tempos seemed occasionally sluggish, this was arguably for the good when the Cathedral’s acoustical mêlée threatened the overall clarity of Stravinsky’s scoring.

No such affliction beset Debussy’s La Mer which opened the second half, however. So clear is Debussy’s scoring that Warren-Green and the Philharmonia were able to realise every nautical nuance from dawn millpond to raging gale with breathtaking effect. In between these works the orchestra was joined by cellist Julian Lloyd Webber, for a performance of Delius’s Cello Concerto, under the able baton of the Philharmonia’s principal bassoonist Robin O’Neill. 150 years old this year, Delius was Debussy’s exact contemporary and in other company his work might have stood a chance. Alas, though, all it achieved here was to demonstrate why Delius never really made the realms of greatness. The sounds are luscious enough, but the music meanders around without actually going anywhere, and rarely did its structures allow Lloyd Webber’s cello solo to break through the surface of orchestral syrup.

The concert ended with Warren-Green and the orchestra giving an extremely well-judged performance of Ravel’s Bolero. It may be a popular lollipop, but it is also an ingenious masterpiece, and when its dynamic contrasts were enhanced by the Cathedral’s generous acoustics, it became hair-raisingly thrilling.