MUSIC / Summer's lease: David Fanning on Libor Pesek and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic

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The Independent Culture
The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra has had to face more than its fair share of challenges in recent years. But with a widely welcomed change in management, and with refurbishment work on Philharmonic Hall now well under way, future prospects seem to be brightening.

The darkest remaining cloud is Libor Pesek's departure as Music Director at the end of this season. He has fostered a humane quality in the RLPO's music-making, a warmth of tone and a responsiveness to lyrical late-romantic repertoire that have not gone unrecognised in the wider musical world. He will be a hard act to follow, and the fact that no successor is as yet even rumoured comes as no great surprise.

Not the least of the RLPO's achievements with Pesek has been to maintain a caring approach to the job under extreme pressure. Their latest venture was another of those massive Josef Suk tone poems of which they have made something of a speciality. A Summer Tale, close to an hour long, is typical of its composer in its melancholic euphony, and given anything less than the dedication and concentration lavished on it here, it might well seem interminable.

Long brass pedal-notes and soulful chords on divided double-basses immediately announce the time-scale, signing the opening with the same pen as the now more famous Asrael symphony. Echoes of that masterpiece, polarised between the pain of bereavement and the consolation of Nature, permeate all five of its movements, the most memorable perhaps being the central one, 'Blind Fiddlers', which is actually dominated by a pair of pastoral cors anglais.

There are hints of Stravinsky's near-contemporary Firebird in the following scherzo, 'In the Power of Delusions', and elsewhere British ears may detect intriguing pre-echoes of Arnold Bax. But, above all, Suk's rhetoric and his attitude to orchestral colour evoke the milder late-romantic eclectics, such as Zemlinsky, Karlowicz, and Gliere. It is good to know that individuality of voice, which all these composers possess, is at last staking a rightful place for them in the concert repertoire.

The structure of A Summer Tale is certainly leisurely in its unfolding. But that is what Suk's temperament and musical language seem to demand, and Pesek's sympathetic command of the score helped the audience to find the right time-scale.

The concert opened with a warmly inflected, if not ideally poised, Magic Flute overture. Then Lorraine McAslan offered a fluent, if not flawlesly articulate, account of the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto. Her very first phrase promised an individuality of legato and timing that was not entirely realised in what was, in fact, a very straight performance. She could have afforded to unbend more around the structural corners (as when the violin first ushers the orchestra away from the home key), and her sound is so beautiful one wishes she would show more overt affection for it and invite us all to share in her delight.

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