Spirited and Invigorating Playing by Federico Colli

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Hindemith, Beethoven, Brahms: Federico Colli (piano), Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/Vasily Petrenko (conductor), Guild Hall, City of Preston, 17.1.2014 (MC)

Federico Colli, Leeds International Piano Competition 2012, photo SWpix.com
Federico Colli, Leeds International Piano Competition 2012, photo SWpix.com

Hindemith: Concert Music for Strings and Brass, Op. 50
Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 5 ‘The Emperor’
Brahms: Symphony No. 3

It was pleasing to welcome chief conductor Vasily Petrenko for his first concert at the Guild Hall, Preston this season. Following a string of outstanding concerts, season after season, the Leningrad born Petrenko certainly has a special place in the heart of the Preston audience. Yet the concert of Hindemith, Beethoven and Brahms was a curiously uneven one, albeit containing an especially delightful element.

Opening the concert was the Concert Music for String Orchestra and Brass Instruments from the pen of enigmatic German composer Hindemith; a work that I guess was new to many audience members. I’m not sure why the score was not programmed in 2013 the year of the fiftieth anniversary of Hindemith’s death although the performance was given only a few weeks from the actual anniversary date of the 28th December 1963. Compared to the progressive nature of much of the music that was being produced by many European composers at this time, Hindemith in this brilliantly scored work uses a relatively conventional musical language. With Hindemith pitting the strings and brass sections together as opposing forces the Liverpool Phil under Petrenko seemed to relish playing something different, displaying a favourable aptitude for weight and tempi amid Hindemith’s robustly angular rhythms. The only sour note was right at the opening of the score with the trumpet and trombones emitting an impenetrable burst of piercing sound that from my position proved too challenging for the notoriously erratic Guild Hall acoustic.

With a number of the more established soloists proving disappointing over past seasons, the Liverpool Phil’s policy of introducing younger soloists to concert programmes has borne fruit with a clutch of talented performers, notably pianists Alexandra Dariescu and Kiryl Keduk, violin and cello duo Mari Samuelsen and Håkon Samuelsen, trumpeter Tine Thing Helseth and violinists Jack Liebeck, Hyeyoon Park and Eugene Ugorski. Going down a storm with the Preston audience was Italian pianist Federico Colli, such an exciting talent who won the Leeds International Piano Competition as recently as 2013. Conspicuous by his curly mop of dark hair and sporting his now trademark cravat, the slightly built soloist gave an exhilarating performance of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5 The Emperor’. Captivating the audience Colli’s delightfully spirited and invigorating playing swept through the hall like a breath of fresh air. I especially enjoyed Colli’s sense of youthful urgency in the opening movement Allegro and his glorious playing of the Adagio generated an intense yet delicate poetry. Such warm applause won the audience an encore with Coli giving an enchanting performance of Dance of the Sugar-Plum Fairy from Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker ballet. On this evidence the charismatic Federico Colli will certainly make a considerable name for himself on the world stage.

Rather disappointing overall was the performance of the Brahms Symphony No. 3 in F major which never seemed to catch fire. The opening movement Allegro con brio with its majestic opening theme was played well enough but everything felt rather lacklustre, cloaked in over comfy familiarity. Serious in character and containing some remarkable harmonies the Andante movement was marked by some exceptional woodwind playing especially from the ruminating clarinet. Maestro Petrenko paid due respect to the third movement Poco allegretto one of the glories of classical music. Opening with the gracious flowing melody for the cellos, Petrenko’s players performed with an unerring sense of integrity. Highlights were Timothy Jackson’s horn solo of haunting beauty followed by the impeccable playing of oboist Jonathan Small. Always feeling to me like an evocation of the renewal of spring after a hard winter the noble Finale felt a touch self-conscious, rather lacking the grandeur that the finest performances provide.

Michael Cookson