Concert Review – Liverpool Phil Close Their 2015/16 Season In Style

LAST week the Phil brought the main concert season to a spectacular close in a concert given performances on Thursday and Friday nights. 

Vasily Petrenko conducted an orchestra of over 100 players, beginning the evening with Skryabin’s exotic and opulent Poem of Ecstasy. This is sumptuous scoring for large forces and can often sprawl or feel overblown, but this performance was well controlled and the ebb and flow of emotion kept under a tight rein by Petrenko. Strikingly, every detail of the dense orchestral textures was clearly defined even in the most heavyweight passages, the massive climax at the close supported by the hall’s organ, felt rather than heard, just beneath the surface.

The emotional tension was relaxed when the orchestra were joined by Welsh harpist Katrin Finch, ending a brief residency with the Phil in a performance of the rarely heard Harp Concerto by Reinhold Gliere. The concerto has a cinematic romanticism, bringing to mind the scores of Korngold, and uses a surprisingly large orchestra to accompany an instrument like the harp. Finch’s playing, though, had the power to project through the orchestral sound whilst never losing its delicacy. The concerto’s central theme and variations movement in particular was a great showcase for her playing, which probably made converts of some of those listeners not generally keen on the harp.

The concert closed the season with Stravinsky’s epic Rite of Spring, one of the most notoriously groundbreaking works of the 20th century. We have heard Vasily conduct the Phil in this work a number of times, but never with this kind of power and electricity. Having got his reading of the score under their skin, the players added extra layers of raw, elemental urgency to their playing. Every detail of the writing was absolutely clear and in place, but the energy and tension in the performance was simply breathtaking, and well deserving of its standing ovation.

The stage was festooned with microphones, as the performance was being recorded for a Stravinsky project to include The Rite of Spring, Petrushka and The Firebird.

Whilst this concert brings the 2015/16 season to an end, the Phil will give more performances during the summer, starting on 18th June with a sold-out concert of the music of John Williams.  

The 2016/17 season, which will be Vasily Petrenko’s 10th with the orchestra, begins on 15th September. Tickets are already on sale to subscribers and general booking opens on 4th July.

 Review by Nigel Smith