Whether by coincidence or careful choice, two works by composers displaced from their homelands were featured by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, under its music director Gerard Schwarz. The late Andrzej Panufnik, who left Poland for England in 1954, composed his short but effective Concertino for timpani, percussion and strings as a competition testpiece in 1980. In its brilliance and clarity, it demonstrates not only his original voice but also his experience as a percussionist. After the striking, austere opening, the RLPO's percussionist Graham Johns and timpanist Ian Wright captured the subtlety of colour, dynamic and expression that Panufnik invested in his colourful line-up of instruments.
Oddly, the Concertino sounded far more modern and daring than the Violin Concerto by Behzad Ranjbaran, who was born in Tehran. He left Iran in 1974, now teaches at the Juilliard School, and is, on the evidence of his Violin Concerto, a technically assured and accomplished, if conservative, composer. Indeed he's such a traditionalist that it seems as though his musical imagination has been caught in a timewarp. The Violin Concerto was composed – 10 years ago – with the particular sound and skill of Ranjbaran's old Indiana University classmate Joshua Bell in mind, especially his combination of "the brilliance of the modern sound and the intimacy and romanticism of the old world".
The old world wins hands down here, since, disappointingly, there is little to challenge or engage the listener in any new and interesting way, and only the merest hint of the Persian modes or rhythms, or the sound of the kamancheh (bowed lute), on which Ranjbaran apparently drew. A patchwork quilt of pastiche, the Concerto combines a contemplative tonal quality with some warmly expressive solo violin writing to which Bell applied his accustomed immaculate intonation and thoughtfulness of interpretation.
The RLPO gave a crisp account of their accompaniment, responding incisively to the work's rhythmic drive, particularly in the glittering finale. While the Concerto served its purpose in getting Bell to Liverpool, introducing a composer whose music Schwarz is known to champion, and chalking up a world premiere, it certainly wasn't the crowd-puller an orchestra needs in the aftermath of the festive season. In Chausson's gorgeous Poème Bell sounded less preoccupied with getting his fingers round the notes and just let the sound soar, releasing some much-needed warmth into a rather chilly Philharmonic Hall. There was no lack of heat, either, in the orchestra's account of Falla's witty account of love, lust and farcical goings-on in midsummer Andalusia. From their opening vigorous claps and heartily shouted "Olés!", the orchestra played up the virtuoso elements of The Three-Cornered Hat, bringing all the story's incident and colour to vibrant life. In the charmingly exotic Spanish folk songs and dances which make up much of the score, the transparent string textures, chunky brass comments and beautifully pointed wind-playing showed off the RLPO in excellent form and captured the sheer spontaneous joy of Falla's entertaining ballet.
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