Friday, December 2

Seascapes and Mountains: Royal Liverpool Philharmonic

On a grey, drizzly day in the city, a packed Philharmonic Hall is ready to escape the gloom outside for an aural expedition that will take us from the wilds of the Scottish Hebrides to the heights of Swiss Alps.

Conductor Laureate (and ‘honorary Scouser’ as of 2009) Vasily Petrenko is greeted like an all-conquering hero and doesn’t hesitate to whisk us off on the first part of our journey as the familiar strains of Mendelssohn’ Hebrides overture, ‘Fingal’s Cave’ fill the hall.

Petrenko is so ‘at one’ with his orchestra, it’s as if he never left. The magnificent harmonies swell together to bring the vast arches and columns of Staffa’s famous sea cave, and Mendelssohn’s musical inspiration, to life. The swaying of conductor and orchestra alike mirrors the waves that one can picture crashing around the cave’s mouth.

We are then joined by star German Cellist Alban Gerhardt for Hadyn’s Cello Concerto in D. For a piece that is usually described as soothing, he bows like a man possessed, enjoying wonderful camaraderie with his fellow strings (as well as fine support from two horns and oboes) as he sweeps from the allegro to the adagio and back again into the rondo.

Photo: Ben Wright

Just very occasionally his raw passion seems to allow the tiniest, infinitesimal fraction of imprecision into his playing but given the slight mythology around the piece (a debate over whether Hadyn actually wrote the concerto, only resolved in 1951 when a signed score was discovered), it unsurprisingly receives rapturous applause – and a surprise burst of Bach as an encore from the delighted cellist.

The final offering of the day comes from the master of the mystic himself, Tchaikovsky, with whom the orchestra shares it year of birth. We journey to the mountains for the ‘Manfred Symphony’, inspired by Byron’s gothic poem of a romantic hero who treks into the alps to seek forgiveness from the spirits that he invokes, seeking absolution from some unknown burden of guilt he carries and relief from his mourning for a deceased lover.

Whilst the piece may be one of Tchaikovsky’s lesser-known works (partially driven, one suspects, by the composer’s own apparent volte face from considering it his best work to deeming it a failure and destroying most of the score) there are moments where, in the hands of our expert musicians, his hallmarks gleam through – from echoes of the Romeo and Juliet overture that he had recently finished, through to the harp glissandos that hint at elements of the Nutcracker Suite.

It is a wonderfully emotional ride, demonstrating the LPSOs continuing strength and prowess, with every instrument – from the booming organ to the tiniest triangle – discernable with complete clarity of sound. And it is a spellbound audience that reluctantly steels themselves to wander back into the rain, loathe to leave what has been a thrilling afternoon of music.

For more information and what’s on, including further performances from the LPSO, visit https://www.liverpoolphil.com/

Reviewer: Lou Steggals

Reviewed: 6th November 2022

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★

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