The Liverpool Philharmonic offer some fine French music in Preston

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Liszt, Mozart, Ravel & Dukas: Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra / Yan Pascal Tortelier (conductor), Guild Hall, Preston, 15.1.2017. (MC)

Liszt Les Préludes
Mozart – Piano Concerto No.27
Ravel – Piano Trio (orchestrated Yan Pascal Tortelier)
DukasThe Sorcerer’s Apprentice

Yan Pascal Tortelier made quite an impression on me back in 1992 when conducting one of his first concerts after taking over as principal conductor of the BBC Philharmonic. Then, the Parisian maestro conducted a mainly French programme of music which he adores and knows so well. At Preston Guild Hall for this Sunday afternoon concert with the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, it therefore came as no surprise that French music featured strongly on the programme.

There might be some people who still have a slight anxiety associated with hearing Liszt’s tone poem Les Préludes as the Nazis used the fanfare for its propaganda broadcasts on Reichsrundfunk (German Imperial Radio). Despite the thick and often unwieldy orchestration this is a spectacular score often described as grand’ and sometimes ‘vulgar’ and under Tortelier the players managed to capture much of the strength and glory of the work.

Next came Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.27 the final concerto which he wrote as he was to die within a year of completing the score. Typical of scores composed towards the end of a composer’s life, this wonderful work is often described as having an ‘autumnal’ quality. Liverpudlian Paul Lewis was the soloist, whom I have seen perform several times and who is certainly one of the finest pianists in the country. As I expected, Lewis’ playing was precise and splendidly articulated with such cleanly focused timbre. Overdoing the ‘autumnal’ character, Lewis made everything feel sombre and overly serious, rather in the manner of an elegy, stripping away any warmth from this beautiful music. I can’t disagree with the term ‘uninspiring’ which I heard used in the hall. A bright spot was the crisp and vibrant playing of real character from the Liverpool Phil, which provided consistent quality.

The programme of works after the interval had been altered but not everyone was informed of this, particularly those who had purchased programmes at the start of the season. An orchestrated version of Ravel’s Piano Trio was played first, and Saint-Saëns’ Danse macabre was swapped for Dukas’ The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Not for the first time this season, puzzled looks on the faces of numerous audience members showed that many had been caught out, including me. Mistaking my Dukas for my Saint-Saëns, I’ve had to amend this review. Making an announcement from the stage would resolve this type of embarrassing problem.

Ravel’s Piano Trio in the orchestration prepared by Yan Pascal Tortelier himself worked splendidly with the conductor lavishing his care on tempi and dynamics. The four-movement score sounded magnificent with Tortelier and his players relishing this dazzling and spectacularly colourful work. It was full of polish and charm, and I revelled in the dreamy atmosphere of the opening movement Modéré which at times strongly reminded me of Ravel’s ballet Daphnis et Chloé. Particularly engaging was a short episode for muted trumpets. In the Pantoum the orchestration felt especially vibrant although some of the percussive effects sounded rather trite. Notable was the stunning string writing in the Passacaille and the uplifting Finale contained a glorious oriental feel, becoming engagingly dramatic.

To close the concert Dukas’ orchestral showpiece The Sorcerer’s Apprentice featured the pranks and adventures of the calamitous novice. Renown came for Dukas when Walt Disney’s film Fantasia (1940) used the work in the film score. Under Tortelier, this appealing work really fizzed along with some lovely wind playing, especially the bassoon solos.

I’m already looking forward to the next concert in the Liverpool Phil’s ‘Preston Series’ in April when the much admired conductor Andrew Manze returns to Hall for an attractive programme of Beethoven, Berlioz, Mendelssohn and Rossini.

Michael Cookson

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