Royal Liverpool Philharmonic/Vasily Petrenko – Grieg & Sibelius – Alan Pendlebury plays Gary Carpenter’s Bassoon Concerto

Symphonic Dances, Op.64
Bassoon Concerto [RLPO commission: world premiere]
Symphony No.5 in E flat, Op.82

Alan Pendlebury (bassoon)

Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra
Vasily Petrenko

Reviewed by: Glyn Môn Hughes

Reviewed: 10 November, 2011
Venue: Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool

Vasily Petrenko. Styled by Lorraine McCulloch, courtesy of Cricket Liverpool, photograph:Mark McNultyGary Carpenter is well-known to Liverpool audiences – at least to those who follow the ever-excellent Ensemble 10/10. He’s contributed to the fascinating One Million Tiny Operas About Britain, much of which has been performed in Liverpool and he wrote Closing Time for tenor and ensemble, performed in both Liverpool and Huddersfield. So far, though, Liverpool audiences have been denied larger-scale works, so the premiere of his Bassoon Concerto – dedicated to Alan Pendlebury, Vasily Petrenko and the RLPO – was a welcome move.

It’s a short work – little more than 15 minutes – but it packs considerable punch in terms of the concentration of ideas and an uncanny depth of musical interest. If there is a slight reservation, it is that the large orchestra rather swamped the often delicate tones of the bassoon, ably played by Pendlebury. The first movement opens in an understated way but builds, rapidly. The solo line is jaunty but subsumed by the orchestra, an accompaniment built on several complementing and contrasting levels. In many ways, the melodies in this ‘Milonga’ – the precursor of the tango – felt quite traditional but fragmented while progressing towards its rather sudden ending. The second movement is a cerebral, languid and pensive creation, the orchestra featuring unresolved chords of seconds, stabs of light in a darkly relaxed atmosphere. The finale contains more-angular melodies and is rhythmically highly inventive, a concerto for orchestra as so many instruments had solo lines, percussion punctuating the whole, the bassoonist carrying on regardless.

The concert opened with Grieg’s delightful Symphonic Dances, music with some big statements, brought out fully by Petrenko. Charming folk-like melodies pervade the score, none more so than in the second movement. (For anyone of a certain age there was a distinct memory of the theme to BBC Radio’s The Navy Lark – which rather caused something of a distraction.) This was a fine performance of energy and power. Sibelius’s Fifth Symphony in its familiar revision closed the concert, Petrenko building up the first movement from a languid opening to a massive climax; always a moment of considerable drama and not lost in this performance. The entwined textures of the middle movement were finely worked while the finale was tumultuous – though why it suddenly slowed about a third of the way through was something of a mystery.

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