Il Seraglio – Overture
Violin Concerto in E minor, Op.64
James Ehnes (violin)
Sarah-Jane Brandon (soprano)
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra
Reviewed by: Glyn Môn Hughes
Reviewed: 4 November, 2010
Venue: Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool
The Mahler message is obviously getting out in Liverpool. His Fourth Symphony, the latest in the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic ’s ‘Mahler Edition’ is perhaps the most approachable of all his symphonic works, though it’s far from the most dramatic in the entire cycle of symphonies – though this performance certainly had its moments. The hall was packed – with the platform sold out – and hibrow.tv was filming. People even spotted veteran film director Ken Russell, which would figure bearing in mind his 1974 biographical film about the composer. But, since last season, the various performances in the long ‘Mahler Edition’ project have almost invariably sold to packed houses and that’s good news for an orchestra, like almost all others, facing straitened times ahead.
The Fourth has the most sublime slow movement, with Vasily Petrenko slowly coaxing some glorious sounds out of the strings from the outset. While he allowed the tension to build it never turned into a sentimental mess and it did move with some pace, thus avoiding the temptation to drag the piece out excessively. The opening movement was that typical Mahlerian mélange of solo lines, with almost every instrument allowed its moment of glory. There was some particularly incisive and exciting playing from the woodwind section. And there was that endlessly fascinating contrapuntal web woven by the composer, something usually evident in the strings, and played to great effect in this performance. The scherzo felt edgy, almost troubled, even satanic. But the whole piece came to a sublime conclusion, courtesy of soprano Sarah-Jane Brandon who got it just right: not overly operatic but blending in with the orchestra for that touching vocal finale. The final fading away to nothing was, again, one of those memorable moments of repose after several moments of high drama.
Earlier, Canadian James Ehnes returned to Liverpool to play a spectacular if rather breathless Mendelssohn Violin Concerto. While it’s one of the most popular pieces in the repertoire it’s still fascinating for its melodic inventiveness. But the first movement was fast and accelerated further. The middle movement was perhaps just a little without emotion while the finale just sparkled. But, at all times, if felt like one of those 100-metre races where the runners do not stop to take a breath. If anything it was his encore – the third movement of J. S. Bach’s Third Sonata for solo violin – which showcased this player. Exuberant where it needed to be, quietly thoughtful for much of the time, this was a great little reward for feeling rushed through the Mendelssohn.
Then there were all the bells and whistles of the Overture to Mozart’s “Il Seraglio”. Bearing in mind all the intrigue which was to follow, Mozart set the scene perfectly and Petrenko led the RLPO in a vivacious interpretation which was as edgy as it was amusing.