Friday, 25 January 2013

The German Romantics – Liverpool Philharmonic Hall, 24/01/2013

Wagner: Overture - The Flying Dutchman, Beethoven: Piano Concerto No.4, Brahms: Symphony No.4
Leif Ove Andsnes, Piano, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Vasily Petrenko.

A good friend of mine likes to compare music with food and on that basis this programme reads on paper like a real winter warmer of a meal; something to sustain us on a cold January evening when the skies outside threaten more snow. There were no heavy puddings on this menu though.

The biting winds of Wagner’s overture to The Flying Dutchman swept a chill into the hall but were tempered with some luscious warm playing from the woodwind in Senta’s theme. There was a spring in the orchestra’s step for the sailors’ chorus and the overall drama of the piece left me wishing for a chorus to appear on the stage and launch into the opera. The DVD will have to come out at the weekend...

With the Piano moved into position Leif Ove Andsnes arrived for his first appearance at Philharmonic Hall. He told us later that he has left Beethoven aside for some while and that this was his first public performance of the 4th concerto in over 10 years. Maybe revisiting the work after leaving it fallow for so long added something to the freshness of his reading? In any case, he gave an account that balanced lyricism and weight perfectly in a concerto that should always be somewhat introspective. In an open discussion after the concert, he and Vasily discussed how this should never be a work in which pianist and conductor vie for control, being as it is very much an equal dialogue between soloist and orchestra. Let’s hope it isn’t long before Mr Andsnes returns to Liverpool.

After the interval came Brahms’ Symphony No. 4, another work that spends time looking inwards and, as such, needs a performance that allows it to breathe. This is something that seems to come naturally to Vasily, his early training in choral music seems to enable him to shape phrases in a way that feels natural and helps the instruments sing. Returning to our food analogy, the 4th Symphony (like a lot of Brahms) can turn into a rather heavy steamed pudding of a thing in the wrong hands, especially in the final movement which can become very ponderous in its closing pages. Here though it had a lightness of touch that prevented any such thing and the tempi used in the finale, often wildly pulled about and clunky, felt as natural as I can ever recall having heard them. The brass playing in the final movement especially had a nobility about it that brought the evening to a warm and satisfying close.

The concert is repeated at 2:30pm on Sunday afternoon, 27th January 2013, and at the time of writing there are still a limited number of tickets available.

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