Le Pas d’acier – Symphonic Suite, Op.41b
Piano Concerto No.4 in G minor, Op.40
Symphony No.2 in E minor, Op.27
Simon Trpčeski (piano)
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra
Reviewed by: Glyn Môn Hughes
Reviewed: 27 January, 2011
Venue: Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool
Few concert promoters are in the luxurious position of being able to mark a concert as “sold out” when they publish their season brochures. Give or take the odd concert on these shores by the likes of Berliner Philharmoniker, it’s something of a rarity to sell out nearly nine months ahead of the date … and then to put on a further performance the following night and sell that out in hours, as well. But that’s what happened when the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic got back its golden duo to perform a Russian programme. Vasily Petrenko and Simon Trpčeski last performed Rachmaninov (Second Piano Concerto) at last season’s BBC Proms, and Trpčeski is now something of a regular performer in the Liverpool platform.
Much of the latest presentation was also given over to Rachmaninov, though the concert opened with a rare performance – in these parts, at least – of Prokofiev’s Le Pas d’acier. It uses a large orchestra and here brought its factory-like insistence to bear. The opening movement – ‘The Entry of the People’ – had some strikingly angular moments, the fortissimo unisons barely abating, sections of the orchestra almost baiting each other: a rather striking though disquieting experience. ‘The Officials’ – the second movement – has an almost oriental feel, another insistent moto perpetuo while ‘The Sailor and the Factory Worker’ allows something of a let-up before another machine-like battering in ‘The Factory’. Beauty and subtlety were out. This was brutish, Soviet-style Russia, a place not beloved of Prokofiev.
The relief came with a sparkling performance of Rachmaninov’s Fourth Piano Concerto (presumably to be recorded for Avie). Trpčeski allowed the humour in the first movement to shine through while the hugely attractive Largo constantly wound itself up to a climax and then gently let itself down again. In many ways, it was something of a relief to get into the stormy opening of the finale in which both soloist and conductor let rip. Trpčeski constantly kept staring at members of the orchestra, forging what seemed to be an intimate relationship with the players. There was an encore involving RLPO principals, Trpčeski announcing an arrangement of Dimcevski’s Skopsko Oro (Dance from Skopje) for piano, violin (James Clark) and cello (Jonathan Aasgaard), one of those typically eastern European dances, the rhythm five against four or four against three – hard to pin down and a constant source of both enchantment and fascination.
In Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony, Petrenko made for a particularly ponderous start but allowed the energy to build quickly. It was an intense performance which led to an effortless scherzo which blazed its way through the fugato section. An achingly beautiful clarinet solo from Nicholas Cox set the tone for the Adagio and the finale brought the house down. Petrenko is said to have created the best Russian orchestra in Britain … this could well be true.