Summer Pops at the Phil

Mussorgsky, arr. Rimsky-Korsakov
A Night on the Bare Mountain
The Sleeping Beauty, Op.66 [selection]
Prince Igor – Polovtsian Dances
Gayaneh – Sabre Dance
Masquerade – Waltz
Spartacus – Adagio
Raymonda, Op.57 [selection]
Romeo and Juliet – Fantasy Overture after Shakespeare

Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra
Vasily Petrenko

Reviewed by: Chris Caspell

Reviewed: 23 June, 2007
Venue: Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool

Vasily Petrenko’s tenure as Principal Conductor of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra is less than a year old but already this young Russian conductor has a huge following at the orchestra’s home in Philharmonic Hall. At this concert conductor and orchestra selected some of the most well-known Russian standards and executed then with fresh, enthusiastic aplomb.

Petrenko introduced the proceedings in his thick, sometimes difficult to decipher, accent. He obviously has a real affinity with the music of his countrymen and is an animated conductor, infecting orchestra and audience alike with his enthusiasm. The inclusion of Glinka’s Waltz-Fantasy was perhaps not the most appropriate piece to open the concert; with a slimmed down orchestra, the raised brass and horn sections dominated unnecessarily. As the “Father of Russian music” a piece by Glinka was not doubt necessary, though perhaps the overture to “Ruslan and Ludmilla” would have been a more sensible if predictable choice.

Mussorgsky’s A Night on the Bare Mountain, as arranged by Rimsky-Korsakov, strangely redressed the balance in spite of the additional horns and brass that joined the orchestra. The characteristically snarling brass of Russian orchestras was not lost in this performance with tight rhythmic blasts adding punctuation to a well-defined winds and strong string section.

Excerpts from The Sleeping Beauty put the demons to one side with a good, strong and sustained string sound in the ‘Rose Adagio’ coupled with a deft dialogue between wind and strings in the ‘Bluebird Pas de deux’. Only the horns were the weak link with some imprecision in timing and intonation which was no doubt emphasised by the fact that rest of the winds were so exceptionally good.

The ‘Polovtsian Dances’ from Borodin’s “Prince Igor” was a convincing, though somewhat predictable ending to the first half. Nowadays it is common to hear the Dances with the choral parts, which were here missed.

Khachaturian is more known today for the ballet-excerpts that have moved on from their original contexts. The three most famous opened the second half; a rhythmic and exciting Sabre dance; the whimsically winding ‘Waltz’ from Masquerade and the ‘Adagio’ from Spartacus. The programme-notes gave more away about the writer and the potential audience than the music, referring to sailing ships in the latter piece – the ‘Adagio’ was used as the theme-music for “The Onedin Line”, the 1970s’ BBC series still being shown on one channel or another. However this was a suitably restrained interpretation only rising to a peak of emotional intensity at the repeat of the main theme.

The selections from Glazunov’s ballet Raymonda were maybe the least familiar of this programme of Russian pieces and no less delicious for being so; skilfully played and with a tendency to be appropriately ‘over the top’. As a finale Tchaikovsky’s version of Romeo and Juliet was given a somewhat pedestrian outing which lacked some of the passion, fire and romance that the RLPO is clearly capable of.

There were two encores: the ‘March’ from Prokofiev’s “The Love of Three Oranges” made a pleasant change to the too-often-performed excerpts from his “Romeo and Juliet” that are usually the staple of encores. Then came the charming ‘Tarantella’ from the ballet Anuta by Gavrilin, well-performed but not great music.

This is a superb orchestra that clearly enjoys playing on its ‘home-turf’: this concert was recorded for the RLPO’s own CD label. Watch out for it.

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