United Kingdom Shostakovich, Prokofiev: Julian Rachlin (violin), Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra/Aleksandar Marković (conductor), Guild Hall, City of Preston, 20.11.2015. (MC)
Shostakovich: Violin Concerto No. 1, Op. 77
Prokofiev: Romeo and Juliet (excerpts)
Disappointingly a portion of the Preston audience would not have known that Long Yu had withdrawn as conductor to be replaced by Aleksandar Marković. Slips of paper mentioning the change had been handed to some of the incoming audience but this courtesy hadn’t extended to me nor a number of others. I only realised there had been a change of conductor as Marković mounted the podium and that was because I had seen him conduct previously. An announcement from the stage would have been the sensible and respectful solution. Thankfully the change didn’t present a problem as Marković, music director and principal conductor of the Brno Philharmonic Orchestra during the period 2009/15, certainly impressed with the baton. Marković conducted with a calm assurance and the Liverpool Phil responded with a brilliant all round performance that felt eminently spontaneous.
Marking his maturity as a composer Prokofiev wrote his ballet Romeo and Juliet based on the William Shakespeare play in 1935. Prokofiev was certainly operating at an elevated level with the thrilling writing continuing to delight generations of music-lovers. The Preston audience was treated to a selection of excerpts from two of the three Suites that Prokofiev had arranged from the full ballet score which included some additions to those contained in the programme (explained on that same slip of paper). This remarkable Prokofiev score certainly inspired majestic playing from the Liverpool Phil controlled so superbly by Marković. My highlights were headed by the enduringly popular Montagues and Capulets, a depiction of the battling Veronese families at the musical core of the work, featuring two shattering climaxes given with thrilling drama by the Liverpool players. Achingly passionate Romeo and Juliet Before Parting overflowed with beautifully swooning and memorable melodies, and the Death of Tybalt was grippingly action-packed. This dramatic and colourful orchestral showpiece of warring feuds is quickly becoming a signature work of the orchestra.
Opening the programme was the Shostakovich Violin Concerto No. 1 played by Lithuanian born soloist Julian Rachlin. a work I suspect was unfamiliar to many of the audience. Owing to Shostakovich’s denouncement by Soviet Russian authorities after completing the work it was consigned to a drawer for several years until he judged the political climate had become more favourable. Becoming more widely heard in the concert hall the First Violin Concerto can be a most rewarding work in the right hands. Rachlin managed to iron out some initial intonation difficulties going on to produce some expressive playing. I especially enjoyed the spiky second movement Scherzo with Rachlin obtaining a flamboyant gypsy-like feel to the writing. Compared to some of the finest performances that can be achieved he never seemed totally to get under the skin of the work leaving me wanting more intensity, more emotion. It was hard to fault the Liverpool Phil who seemed impeccably prepared and excelled with sensitive playing.
Despite the additional excerpts from Romeo and Juliet the Preston programme was still of a relatively short length and could have easily included the Verdi Nabucco Overture that the orchestra were to due to play the following two evenings in Liverpool.