RLPO/Petrenko, Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool

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The Independent Culture

The Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra is on a roll. A compelling account of Britten's War Requiem was a tour de force in the Capital of Culture's Anglican Cathedral earlier this summer, and concerts with Bryn Terfel, Elvis Costello and Sir Paul McCartney have won it new supporters. Under its Russian principal conductor Vasily Petrenko, it launched its new season with typically gutsy élan.

If anyone still needed convincing that Petrenko and the Phil are a force to be reckoned with, it came in a dazzling account of Prokofiev's Fifth Symphony. Petrenko's assured interpretation never became over-theatrical but, in a witty scherzo, a lyrical slow movement and a high-spirited finale, he left no doubt as to his ability to draw the very best from his players. The performance held the listener rapt, from the magisterial opening movement with its curiously balletic musings to the work's brittle, buoyant finale.

Paul Lewis continued his Liverpool series of Beethoven piano concertos with the Second. As ever, his technique proved unassailable, his tone refined and his artistry disciplined. It didn't sound like a young man's view, however, and it didn't seem to fire up Petrenko; an element of magical spontaneity seemed to elude him on this occasion.

Graven Image, by the Liverpool-born Kenneth Hesketh, is not related to forbidden biblical icons or to the Eighties metal band. It reflects the definitions of both words, juggling ideas of reflections and sculptured grooves with death-laden symbols associated with memento mori. As "composer in the house" Hesketh knows the orchestra's strengths, and the score's rhythmic lightness and glittering intensity of colour – a surprisingly exuberant elaboration on sombre subject matter – was rewarded with playing of exemplary clarity of detail combined with a sense of the work's brooding drama. From its opening clarinet line, rising through a madrigalian patchwork of scampering wind and scurrying strings, their "ghosted" versions of previous themes supported by tolling percussion, Graven Image exerts a powerful aural fascination, grabbing the listener's attention almost as if from beyond the grave.

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