SUPERSTAR piano duo Greg Anderson and Elizabeth Joy Roe practically blew the roof off the Liverpool Phil’s Music Room in a recital they gave on Monday. On Thursday they returned to join the orchestra on the main stage in a performance of the Concerto for Two Pianos by Francis Poulenc, along with conductor Christian Lindberg.
Anderson and Roe are tremendously charismatic and insanely talented, and the Poulenc concerto was a great piece to demonstrate some of their stylistic range. Poulenc is noted for injecting a stiff dose of playfulness into his work, and parts of the two-piano concerto at times feel almost like music to a silent comedy film. But even in the same movement the mood changes to something far more languid and thoughtful, and the liquid playing from the pair of pianos nestled in an embrace on the forestage was simply exquisite. After a similarly reflective, shorter centre movement, the finale returns to spikier passages, eventually returning us via a reflection of the opening to a sharp and witty conclusion. Throughout they were accompanied with flair by the RLPO.
Demonstrating their showmanship and obvious love of playing, the duo then treated the audience to not one but two encores. Piazzola’s Libertango and the Beatles’ Let it Be, both in their own arrangements, giving us a glimpse of other aspects of their extensive repertoire of both material and performance methods.
The programme planners had carried off a small stroke of genius in preceding the Poulenc with Stravinsky’s Pulcinella Suite. His fifth piece for the Ballet Russes in Paris, Pulcinella more or less marked the beginning of Stravinsky’s neoclassical period, although it would be more correct to think of it as neo-baroque. The overall effect of the scoring, with Stravinsky’s distinctive style, is one of the baroque seen through a hypnotic expressionist filter. The way in which the music blends formality with a sense of mischievous wit made this a perfect precursor to the Poulenc that followed. Christian Lindberg drew out every detail well and the orchestra were clearly enjoying working with him again.
Another long-awaited treat came in the second half, when Lindberg returned to conduct Sibelius’ complete Lemminkäinen suite. The four movements are frequently performed individually as symphonic poems, but when heard together they take on a sense of cohesion that led the composer to come to regard the suite almost as part of his symphonic cycle. Sibelius paints with orchestral colour so beautifully in these pieces that the music has a tremendously descriptive, almost visual feel, and it was here that we really got a feel for both Lindberg’s understanding of the music and the richness of the orchestra’s playing. The range from almost glacial stillness to impassioned rage was electrifying and the audience were held in rapt attention thoughout.
This has been a triumphant Liverpool debut for Anderson and Roe, as well as a very welcome return by Lindberg, who will also be perfoming with the Phil’s Ensemble 10/10 at the University of Liverpool’s Leggate Theatre on Saturday, in a concert of “Swedish Meatballs” including by Lindberg himself as well as Tarrodi, Sandström and Egland.
Review by Nigel Smith