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Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra – Leeds Town Hall

Music: Brahms, Liszt, Bizet, Ravel

Conductor: Yan Pascal Tortelier

Reviewer: Ray Taylor


Leeds Town Hall with its crystal clear acoustics provides a wonderful setting for classical music concerts and tonight’s audience greatly enjoyed a varied programme of Hungarian and French works. The planned programme had to be slightly altered due to circumstances beyond management’s control as both the original conductor and soloist were unable to attend but you would never have known it from the performances that were given.

Yan Pascal Tortelier is a very charismatic conductor. Using no baton and not following any written score he is in total control of the whole orchestra. His hands, arm movements, facial expressions and whole body language convey everything to the musicians and there is a palpable rapport between the two. Watching Tortelier on the podium is an enjoyment in itself.

The concert opens with three of Brahms’ Hungarian Dances, orchestrated gypsy tunes that so captivate Brahms. The first of these in particular produced a very evocative sound with extremely energetic, vigorous playing. The three dances taken together are a nice introduction to the evening but as there are 21 in total one is left wishing for at least a couple more to whet the appetite.

Boris Giltburg, a young Russian soloist, then performed Liszt’s First Piano Concerto in E flat. This is a virtuoso piece which demands the most in terms of skill and concentration from the soloist. Giltburg does not disappoint. The well- known grand opening is followed by a piano cadenza played with perfect precision that sets the standard for what is to follow. Giltburg’s energy is remarkable but he can equally reign it in for the more beautiful, lyrical quieter sections of the piece. The whole work is thrilling and scintillating and Giltburg is more than a match for its brilliance. The prolonged ovation he receives prompts him to delight the audience with two encores.

The second half begins with selected movements from Bizet’s L’Arlesienne Suite. Originally composed as incidental music for a play that only lasted for 21 performances, this is now a terrific concert piece full of warmth, vigour and delightful tunes that the orchestra obviously enjoy playing. We are treated to a Pastorale, two Minuets, a Carillon, an Adagietto and a rousing Farandole finale.

The final work in the concert is undoubtedly the darkest: Ravel’s La Valse. It was originally intended as a ballet and has been choreographed several times. It conveys a ghostly dance with ominous dark rumblings of low strings and bassoons in a misty, nightmarish world. It is an expressionistic, sombre piece with flashes of rhythm and harmony that leaves one feeling rather uncomfortable. Maybe if this piece and the Bizet had been performed the other way round the audience would have had a more comfortable journey home.

This is a minor quibble though. The whole evening was a delightful, enriching experience complemented by the free, pre-concert talk given by Peter Whitfield who concentrated on Liszt and Ravel.

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