A Celebration by the RLPO!

I had been excited about attending this concert for some time. The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and chief conductor Vasily Petrenko had earlier in the week been wowing the audience at the Royal Albert Hall, London in the biannual Classic FM Live. Friday’s programme borrowed heavily from their earlier London performance, though sadly Petrenko did not return to Liverpool with his glittering sequinned jacket which he wore in celebration of Classic FM’s Make Some Noise charity.

Vasily Petrenko

Vasily Petrenko Picture: Ian West/PA

David and I were in the cheap seats in the upper circle. The auditorium filled up nicely, but was not a full house as Thursday’s performance of the same programme was. I was thankful for this and we enjoyed a unobstructed view of the orchestra!

View from our seats

View from our seats

After the National Anthem, the orchestra started the evening as they meant to go on with a Celebration Overture composed by Nigel Hess and commissioned for the Philharmonic’s 175th anniversary! It was a fun opening to the concert though I was more interested in what came next.

Ji Liu who had also graced the stage of the Royal Albert Hall with Petrenko and co on Tuesday, came to Liverpool to perform Rachmaninov’s ultimately romantic second Piano Concerto!

Ju Liu

Ji Liu

It is undoubtedly my favourite piano concerto! I love the lyricism of the piece and the second movement (adagio sostenuto) is spine tingly good. Ji Liu cuts a very slender frame on the stage and at times during the performance the piano seemed too small for him, (if that make’s any sense)! He played the piece deftly and with skill.

During the opening movement (moderato), I found that the orchestra seemed to drown out the piano at times. I have noted this earlier in my review of Nobuyuki Tsujii‘s performance of Rachmaninov’s third piano concerto. Perhaps this was why the orchestra was surrounded by padding that adorned the walls? In part to rectify the change in acoustics due to the earlier renovations? Either way, the performance was exceptional.

While Ji Liu took the audience into the slow, second movement, made famous by David Lean’s Brief Encounter, I prepared myself to be swept away with romantic feeling. However the reality was that any sentimental musings were disrupted by some unfortunate, who coughed and retched about five minutes into this musical reverie. I imagined the poor stricken soul expiring in his chair. I gripped David’s arm hoping the gentleman would recover or graciously leave the auditorium. He thankfully recovered so we could all enjoy the remaining performance which culminated in Ji Liu coming onto the stage three times to raucous approval and then satisfying the appreciative crowd with his rendition of Skyfall.

After the interval, the Philharmonic continued their celebratory mood, with Glinka’s Overture to Ruslan and Ludmila, Vaughan William’s English Folk Song Suite and Verdi’s Aida march and ballet music. The concert was rounded off loudly with the much played 1812 Overture by Tchaikovsky. I would have loved this performance even more, if it were not for the recorded playback of cannons near the cymbal crashing culmination! To me it seemed a little forced. I was content with the wonderful playing of the percussion section whose bells sounded glorious!

Overall it was a fun concert to see and a great start to the Philharmonic’s new season. I look forward even more to Petrenko’s Mahler in November when the RLPO perform Mahler’s Sixth Symphony, a symphony very close to my heart!

© 2015 Christine Lucas

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The ‘New’ Liverpool Philharmonic Hall.

On Sunday David and I went to the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic to hear a recital of Rachmaninov’s 3rd Piano Concerto, performed by Nobuyuki Tsujii, and conducted by Vasily Petrenko.

The hall has just had a major facelift. It has been some 20 years since the last overhaul and everything looks fresh and newly painted. The reception is of an aquatic blue and the auditorium painted brilliant white, with new lighting and a new stage.

The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic

The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic

However it’s quite noticeable, the new against the old. I would have preferred new upholstered chairs, or at least carpets for the audience, the seating areas look a little dated in comparison.

From Thursday’s performance called ‘Winter Daydreams,’ where Nobuyuki Tsuji played Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No.3, people noted that the acoustics in the hall were different than previously. I noticed the same today. The strings, especially the cellos/bases during the Rachmaninov seemed rather muted. Whether this has anything to do with the pale wood that comprises the stage is debatable. However the sound from the Tchaikovsky (1st symphony) seemed to dispel any previous issues.

The concert opened with Nobuyuki Tsuji‘s performance of the 3rd Piano Concerto of Rachmaninov, touted as one of the most technically challenging to play. Tsuji’s performance was virtuosic and touching. The lyricism in this piece is breathtaking, but for me it doesn’t touch the emotion carried by it’s predecessor. Personally I would have loved Tsuji to have performed the Rachmaninov Piano Concerto no.2 which he played triumphantly at the BBC Proms in 2013. However I did enjoy the Rachmaninov 3, the finale was exhilarating.

It was lovely to see Petrenko guide Tsuji on and off the stage to the appreciative applause. There was even a hug between them after they left the stage for the final time.

The afternoon was filled with encores as Tsuji came back to the stage to perform Rachmaninov’s Variation 18 of a Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini which was beautiful. I could have listened to a whole concert with Tsuji playing, so I hope he comes back to the UK and Liverpool again soon! The only complaint I had which has also been reiterated by other reviewers was that at times the orchestra seemed to overpower the virtuosity of the soloist. Perhaps it is something the Liverpool Phil can rectify for future concerts?

The second half of the concert was Tchaikovsky’s 1st Symphony, ‘Winter Daydreams.’ It is a symphony I am not familiar with. I know a lot about Tchaikovsky’s most popular works and his later symphonies but not his earlier ones. It was a neat performance by the Liverpool Philharmonic, but for me it was just not my ‘cup of tea,’ even David nodded off at one point!

With the hall still having major reconstructions, the side entrances were closed, meaning that everyone from the circle and rear circle had to filter out via one exit. People stated ‘what would happen in a fire?’ but I am sure the hall’s evacuation plans would cover this. I can’t see them opening for the public with no emergency contingencies in place.

The concert was a ‘sell out’ and the audience seemed happy with what they were offered. I know David and I went home feeling satisfied. I can’t wait to visit the hall again for the Valentine’s concert and in April for Mahler’s ‘Resurrection’ Symphony (No2). That performance will definitely test out the new acoustics of the hall and we’ll also see where the choir will be situated on the new stage!

They are lots of exciting events to look forward to and the Liverpool Philharmonic looks like it is embarking on an enthralling 175th anniversary season.