Royal Liverpool PO, Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool
Monday 05 January 2004
Providing a refreshing alternative to the easy-listening pop, music from the movies and other confections that orchestras generally churn out at this time of year, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra settled instead for a programme of baroque music. One of the most enjoyable festive concerts I've heard for a long time, it had the appeal of a bowl of tangy fruits after a surfeit of figgy pudding. Laurence Cummings, who devised and directed this attractive programme, secured stylish playing from the RLPO strings - violins divided to either side of him - and the seven works were fluidly staged and fluently presented.
Corelli's Christmas Concerto - its finale conjuring up the shawm-playing shepherds and bagpipe-puffing countryfolk who flock annually to Rome in tribute to the shepherds who followed the star to Bethlehem - set the standard for the evening. Cummings provided a persuasive continuo texture, swivelling discreetly between harpsichord and chamber organ, while drawing rhythmically incisive and intelligently phrased playing from the ensemble. The same musical vitality characterised the livelier movements of Corelli's D major Concerto Grosso from the same Opus 6 set, in which time seemed to stand still in the gently throbbing second Adagio.
Thelma Handy, one of the RLPO's most valuable assets, not only led the orchestra with quiet authority but gave an intimate reading of Bach's E major Violin Concerto. Though the opening Allegro might have benefited from a more robust solo line, she chose to save a more exuberant sound for the lilting last movement. Even in a hall built to symphonic proportions she made a distinct impression with her rounded tone and precise intonation, with a crisp and balanced accompaniment from Cummings and the string band.
Making his first concerto performance on the oboe d'amore, Jonathan Small gave a sensitive account of Bach's A major harpsichord concerto, now born again as a concerto for this loveliest of woodwind instruments. Its mellow sound complemented the busy strings in the perky outer movements, while Small had the poetry of the music at heart in his refined spinning of the songlike melody in the central siciliana.
In Charpentier's charming Noels pur les instruments, a selection of traditional French carols neatly done up in instrumental giftwrap, the strings were joined by two sweetly tootling recorders whose piping added a particular gaiety to "Ou s'en vont ces gais bergers?" If Vivaldi's sombre "Al Santo Sepolcro" Sinfonia felt unseasonably grave, his "La Concha" Concerto whipped up a fair old storm, as evocative as anything in his Four Seasons. Since Cummings and these players from the RLPO clearly enjoy such a fruitful relationship the orchestra might consider a more permanent partnership, an RLPO live recording perhaps, or at the very least more, please, of this kind of quality music-making.
Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air
Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression
tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Woman 'suffocates newborn baby in plastic bag and puts it in her desk minutes after giving birth'
- 2 I've been called an abusive and dangerous parent, when all I did was listen to my transgender child
- 3 Company breaks open Apple Watch to discover what it says is 'planned obsolescence'
- 4 Teaching profession headed for crisis as numbers continue to drop and working lives become 'unbearable'
- 5 Chinese student carries disabled friend to school every day for three years
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins
Al Pacino admits he was nearly fired from The Godfather and it's still his most 'difficult role'
Warner Music owner Len Blavatnik tops Sunday Times Rich List
London Marathon: Best running songs from Beyoncé and Kendrick Lamar to 'Uptown Funk'
Oldest footage of London landmarks released
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
The sickening truth about food banks that the Tories don't want you to know
Migrant boat disaster: Ukip candidate mocks victims in sickening Twitter post
Nigel Farage wants the BBC to stop making programmes like Doctor Who, Strictly Come Dancing, and Top Gear
Global warming: Scientists say temperatures could rise by 6C by 2100 and call for action ahead of UN meeting in Paris
General Election 2015: Britain would become a 'communist dictatorship' under Ed Miliband and Nicola Sturgeon, claims wife of Michael Gove