Stunning RLPO Concert Lifts Post-Christmas Blues

United KingdomUnited Kingdom  Grieg, Sibelius, Tchaikovsky: Jack Liebeck (violin), Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, Vasily Petrenko (conductor), Guild Hall, Preston, 20.1.2013 (MC)

Grieg: Holberg Suite
Sibelius: Violin Concerto
Tchaikovsky: Symphony No.6 Pathétique

Vasily Petrenko,; photo credit: Mark McNulty
Vasily Petrenko: Photo credit Mark McNulty

I can understand why a programme entitled ‘All points North’ referring to composers from countries notable for their frozen winters might have tempted concert goers to stay inside snuggled up in front of a roaring fire in such chilly January weather. If they had they would have deprived themselves of a concert that was guaranteed to lift any post-Christmas blues.

Under the direction of their chief conductor Vasily Petrenko the Liverpool Phil demonstrated stunning playing that was a match for any orchestra who might think they have a monopoly on music from the northern climes. Grieg’s Holberg Suite subtitled Suite in olden style based on eighteenth century dance forms was a tasty opener with the string orchestra oozing neo-baroque elegance and conveying just the right degree of restraint. Performing the Sibelius Violin Concerto was London born soloist Jack Liebeck who has been making quite a name for himself. Over the years I have been generally disappointed with performances of the Sibelius concerto witnessing numerous soloists who have failed to get under the skin of this wonderful work. Liebeck, playing his glowing toned ‘Ex-Wilhelmj’ Guadagnini from 1785, was as near to my ideal performance as I could imagine. Displaying assured, focused rhythmic control Liebeck was one of the few soloists to truly bring out the cool, darkly tense character of Sibelius’s intensely passionate writing.

Tchaikovsky’s music runs through the veins of maestro Petrenko like lifeblood and the in-demand Russian conductor has a special affinity for this passionately emotional composer. Few symphonies are as heart wrenching as the Symphony No.6 Pathétique’ which could almost serve as a symphonic autobiography of the troubled composer’s life. In his reading Petrenko obtained just the right balance of depth of passion with power without resorting to an interpretation of cloying sentimentality. Taken slower than felt usual the soaring romantic main theme of the opening movement had never sounded so meltingly attractive and the clarinet solo toward the end of the movement was a comforting treat. Admirable vitality and dramatic intensity marked the performance especially in the third movement Allegro molto vivace – a brilliantly scored march shot with that so characteristic undercurrent of melancholy. Here I felt the glory of the high strings that have made remarkable recent progress;  the woodwind section once again excelled. Sensing a conductor in total control it was easy to get lost in the mightily impressive interpretation and the forty-five minute or so duration of the work just flew by.

Under the conductorship of Vasily Petrenko it feels like a great privilege to attend a Liverpool Phil concert – such is the elevated quality of the playing. Recent announcements of impending conducting changes in Berlin at the world’s most famous orchestra make one realise that in the classical music world nothing stays the same. These are times to cherish at the Liverpool Phil and one hopes they will long continue.


Michael Cookson