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.
BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital moveTV
Final Top Gear reviewTV
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Man who was struck and killed by lightning in Brecon Beacons 'was carrying a selfie stick'
- 2 Lisa Randolph-Gant: Queen Elsa cake maker says she will carry on baking and will not let people 'break her spirit'
- 3 Tube strike: This pedestrian-friendly map tells you time it takes to walk between stations
- 4 Pamplona Running of the Bulls 2015: Three men gored and 10 hospitalised on first day of festival
- 5 Sarah Jessica Parker explains why she is not a feminist: 'It's not just about women now'
Artist Milo Moire arrested in Paris for taking naked selfies with passers-by in front of the Eiffel Tower
Is Jon Snow dead? Theories stoked by Kit Harrington's longer hair despite Game of Thrones director claiming he's 'deader than dead'
Noel Gallagher actually gives Kanye West some credit for his Glastonbury headline set: 'For half an hour it was as good as it gets'
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas run through Google's Deep Dream neural network is pure nightmare fuel
Chris Moyles reportedly set to make radio comeback with new breakfast show on XFM
More Britons believe that multiculturalism makes the country worse - not better, says poll
Osborne to cap family benefits at £23,000 – announced ahead of his post-election Budget
Nathan Collier: Montana man inspired by same-sex marriage ruling requests right to wed two wives
Sickness and disability benefits could be reduced by £30 a week as part of £12bn welfare cuts
Greece debt crisis: Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande issue Athens with 24-hour ultimatum to avoid crashing out of the euro
Greece crisis: Referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its lack of genuine legitimacy