Graven Image [BBC/Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra co-commission: World premiere]
Piano Concerto No.4 in G, Op.58
Symphonic Dances, Op.45
Paul Lewis (piano)
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra
Reviewed by: Chris Caspell
Reviewed: 1 August, 2008
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London
Since I last heard the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic and Vasily Petrenko (on home ground), this completely different programme confirmed the good things that have been said about this pairing: that the overall sound is much tighter and the ensemble more together, something borne out in this Prom.
Liverpool-born Kenneth Hesketh (40 this year) has had a long association with the Liverpool Philharmonic; in 1988, while still a student at the Royal College of Music, he completed his first formal commission for the Orchestra. He is now the RLPO’s “Composer in the House”, a two-year position that he took up last September. Graven Image is in three continuous sections; the music moves from a delicate opening on winds and high strings through a thicker-sounding middle section of rising and falling semiquavers and returns to flute and strings, from whence it came, almost.
Stylistically the influence of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring is clear; Hesketh’s masterful command of the orchestral palette is also similar to that of the Russian composer though in no way a pastiche. Delicate lines weave skilfully through the opening section, often repetitious in what the composer describes as “ghosted versions”. The piece is on the edge of diatonic tonality – much in the same way as early Stravinsky and Berg is; this makes it, at times, derivative, though no less enjoyable.
Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.4 is something of an oddball in its opening for solo piano being answered by the orchestra’s distant B major. Paul Lewis’s thoughtful performance was reflected in the orchestra’s skilled accompaniment. The first movement often seemed under-tempo and emphasised by little differentiation between this one and the next. The deft attacca to the sprightly finale thankfully put paid to any members of the audience clapping.
Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances was the last piece he completed, written for Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra. Whether the composer realised this would be his swansong is unclear, but the references to his ‘disowned’ First Symphony (the disastrous first performance led to a creative block for three years), other quotations (not least his oft-used ‘Dies Irae’ and his suggested (if dropped) titles of ‘Midday’, ‘Twilight’ and ‘Midnight’ seem to suggest that he did.
This was another commanding rendition by the RLPO and Petrenko. Brass never dominating in what was a well-balanced performance. The duet between oboe and cor anglais in the second movement ‘Tempo di Valse’ was a model of seamless interchanging; and, in the finale, razor-sharp rhythms from the percussion section made this performance shine all the more.
A encore, the ‘Hopak’ from Mussorgsky’s “Sorochintsy Fair”, rounded off this excellent concert, which ably demonstrated why Liverpool is currently the European City of Culture.