Friday, 22 February 2013

The Four Seasons - Liverpool Philharmonic Hall – 21/02/2013

Vivaldi: The Four Seasons, JS Bach: Orchestral Suite No.1 in C, WF Bach: Concerto in F minor for Harpsichord - Giuliano Carmignola: violin, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, Ottavio Dantone: conductor/harpsichord.

I am not very keen on Baroque music in general, and Vivaldi’s Four Seasons has been piped down so many phone lines at me that I have developed a special aversion to that work in particular.

However, I had a ticket as part of my subscription, so I braced myself and went along. And guess what? I actually enjoyed it.

Violin soloist Giuliano Carmignola, in his Phil debut, gave a stylish reading of the four concertos that make up The Seasons without ever becoming overindulgent. The string orchestra (configured 6/5/4/3/2) was augmented by both chamber organ and archlute, with conductor Ottavio Dantone giving lively and sometimes almost demonic direction from the harpsichord.

Now these are quite substantial forces for such a work, but with Dantone’s imaginative use of sound and texture and the way in which Carmignola played with rather than against them, resulted in a very lucid, well balanced effect. Mr Carmignola also seemed to enjoy the passages in which he had dialogue with other string soloists from the orchestra. There was a freshness of approach that brought out some very striking rhythms and colours. By the time we reached the opening of Winter I began to wonder whether Bernard Herrmann had ever heard it played like this, as its vertiginous phrasing at times put me in mind in of his score for Psycho. Enthusiastic applause drew a reprise of a single movement as an encore.

Prior to the interval, the same 20 strings began the concert joined by two oboes and a bassoon, with harpsichord continuo, in the 1st orchestral suite by JS Bach. Ottavio Dantone clearly loves this music and directed it with a lightness of touch that again gave us a sense of the excitement of hearing it for the first time.

Something that I actually was hearing for the first time was the remaining item in the first half, the harpsichord concerto in F minor by Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, Johann Sebasian’s eldest son. For this the wind players disappeared for an early bath and the violins and violas dispensed with their chairs to perform standing. Again Dantone directed from the keyboard and gave an elegant yet sprightly performance of the concerto. In a hall this size, designed for a full symphony orchestra, a harpsichord does struggle to fill the space as it might in a smaller recital room. Nonetheless the ensemble had clearly worked at the dynamics to avoid submerging the soloist in all but a very few places.

It was a very welcome surprise to see the return of Thelma Handy leading the orchestra after recovering, I am told, from an injury that has kept her absent since before Christmas.

All of this made for an unexpectedly delightful evening, and made me reassess my opinion of some repertoire I have been avoiding for some time.

For details of future events at Philharmonic Hall, visit:

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