WATCHING a live orchestra in action — particularly a world-class one like the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic — always fills you with wonder and awe, no matter what they are playing. Of particular fascination is the conductor. The way he or she moves can be mesmerising, magical — and sometimes even comical.
On Friday night our baton-bearer was Vasily Petrenko from Russia. Am I imagining things or are conductors getting younger these days? Like prime ministers of yore, they used to be grizzled old chaps, bent double and barely able to make it to the podium without a stick and an escort. This guy positively bounded out and leapt on to the podium like an athlete. But then he’s only 38, and won his first serious conducting competition in St Petersburg aged 27. We were in for an evening of funky grooves.
The concert began with the hellfire-and-brimstone opening chords of Mozart’s Overture to Don Giovanni and as Petrenko waved his arms dramatically we were transported to some sultry Mediterranean town where the fictional lothario would play out his death wish. Even as the bleak D minor chords gave way to a more cheerful major mood, the auspices had been set.
Elgar’s Variations on an Original Theme: Enigma Op. 36 followed and we shifted back to our own green and pleasant land.
Elgar evokes England like no other composer, calling to mind rolling hills and Constable-esque pastoral scenes, and the Variations are no exception. Can there be any piece of music as moving and emotional to an Englishman as Variation IX, Nimrod?
Brahms’ Symphony No 3 followed. He’s an acquired taste, is Brahms. They say don’t bother with opera until you’re 40, and I reckon it’s the same with his orchestral music, most of which is bereft of the in-your-faceness of a Beethoven or a Mahler.
Brahms may be technically brilliant but the sweeping melodic panoramas created by a tunesmith like Rachmaninov just aren’t there. Nevertheless, this was beautiful comfort music, brilliantly executed by Liverpool.
The orchestra was greeted with rapturous applause. Then we were treated to a rare encore — Brahms again, only this time his joyful Hungarian Dance No 5, delivered with enough brio to make you want to leap to your feet, and accompanied by some sexy — and quite comical — twitches of the shoulder from our Russian maestro.
Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra
Friday, January 24