Valentine Classics from Gomez and the RLPO

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Tchaikovsky, Bruch, Prokofiev, Martucci, Ravel: Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, José Luis Gomez (conductor), Hyeyoon Park (violin). Guild Hall, Preston, Lancashire, 17.2.2013. (MC)

Tchaikovsky: Romeo and Juliet, Fantasy Overture
Bruch: Violin Concerto No.1
Prokofiev: Concert suite, Romeo and Juliet
Martucci: Notturno
Ravel: Boléro

With the concert programme showing only twenty-six minutes of music for the second half of the programme this would have been some kind of record. Thankfully what was initially advertised as just the Montagues and Capulets from Prokofiev’s ballet Romeo and Juliet was extended to play the concert suite instead of the single extract.

Ten days ago the Liverpool Phil were giving the UK première of Mark-Anthony Turnage’s new Cello Concerto before returning to more traditional ground. This programme entitled ‘Valentine Classics’ had already been given at the Philharmonic Hall in Liverpool on Valentine’s Day and again two days later. Popular classics it certainly was, but it’s the quality of the music that counts and the audience clearly revelled in the familiar music that was on offer.

I had heard the opener Tchaikovsky’s Fantasy Overture, Romeo and Juliet the previous evening at a concert given by the Hallé orchestra. But this is such a high quality work that it stands up to repeated hearings. The Hallé had played it splendidly, as did the Liverpool Phil with the Venezuelan-born, Spanish guest conductor José Luis Gomez revealing his credentials in a characterful performance.

A former No. 1 in the ‘Classic FM Hall of Fame’ Max Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1 is probably the most played concerto in the violin repertoire. It’s undoubtedly a gorgeous work that deserves its popularity and with the composer having spent three seasons as principal conductor of this orchestra (1880/83) it felt a particularly appropriate choice. This was my first look at soloist Hyeyoon Park who is emerging as one of the leading violinists of her generation. Standing elegantly erect on the stage wearing a stunning red gown, the South Korean born virtuoso provided some gorgeous and assured playing. Park’s Lorenzo Storioni violin from Cremona (1781) projected a large, magnificent singing tone that easily filled each corner of the hall. Her performance of the beautiful central movement Adagio contained a tenderness that bordered on the sensuous. Passions didn’t drop in the Finale either with playing that moulded plenty of attack with such absorbing expression. Gomez and the Liverpool Phil accompanied the soloist sensitively with the strings displaying an admirable glow.

Fortunes were somewhat mixed after the interval when Gomez, the winner in 2010 at the International Sir Georg Solti Conductor’s Competition in Frankfurt, opened with a concert suite from Prokofiev’s ballet Romeo and Juliet. Gomez directed some exciting moments, yet at times there was a curious lacklustre feel that thankfully improved as the work progressed. Martucci’s beautiful Notturno fared much better with the Liverpool Phil producing a convincingly sultry mood that just ached with passion.

Ravel’s spectacular Boléro was originally composed as a ballet score for Russian ballerina Ida Rubinstein. I relish hearing the occasional performance of Bolero and it proved to be a splendid work for Gomez and the Liverpool Phil to display their skills. I love the way this remarkable music builds from a whisper in relentless waves of colourful sound to a jubilant roar. For a while I could hear it but not see the crucial snare-drum virtually hidden in the body of the orchestra. After such a dazzling burst of irresistible musical energy and vivid colours I doubt anyone left the hall without feeling uplifted.

Michael Cookson