It's rare but refreshing to see a soloist from the first half of a concert sit among the audience for the second. Mitsuko Uchida makes a habit of it, as do some younger players. But what I'd never seen, until now, was a visiting soloist return to play among the ranks of the orchestra. Yet Alban Gerhardt, a German cellist in high demand, who had just delivered a ravishing performance of Dvorák's cello concerto, joined the Philharmonia as 11th cello for Sibelius's second symphony.

From the opening bars, you could see why he might. This was no ordinary performance. The symphony clicked as a unity in a way that it seldom does, whether because of Esa-Pekka Salonen's national affinity with the composer, or because he is a master of layering, of liquid tempi and limpid phrasing. The majestic, even stolid, textures you'll find elsewhere, just as you'll encounter the same sense of bleakness and breadth – of a limitless horizon in which ideas take generations to come into themselves. But in Salonen's hands, the aural gaze can meaningfully retreat from horizon to a foreground which, like Finland's wooded expanse, may appear empty, but is teeming with life. Salonen took many sections faster than his colleagues, but was unafraid to luxuriate when appropriate; no stress was out of place, nor was there a phrase which, in its dying breath, didn't find itself resuscitated in what followed.

In this, as in the Dvorák and the opening blast of unreconstructed high spirits from Beethoven's Namensfeier overture, the Philharmonia showed themselves right on the money. The strings, in particular, were in exceptional fettle, in part due to the way the front desks played to each other as much as to us, the chamber-music effect trickling all the way down – in the Sibelius – to the 11th cello.

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