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Byline: Catherine Jones

JUST back from conducting the Honolulu Symphony Orchestra, Vasily Petrenko turned his eyes from west to east to front an all Russian programme at the Phil.

And the Phil, fresh from a double win at the Royal Philharmonic Society awards, were out to prove that east or west, home is still best.

While Russian composers may be "home" to the young conductor, surprisingly he was still tackling a pair of the pieces for the first time, including Mussorgsky's Pictures At An Exhibition - one of two highlights of the night - which brought the programmed part of the evening to a barnstorming close.

Ravel's re-working of Mussorgsky's tribute to his friend Victor Hartman is a work of many painted parts drawn together by a recurring promenade theme.

Under Petrenko, the whole took on a pleasingly full-bodied feel with the Grimms fairytalelike Gnomus offered a satisfyingly dramatic, rumbling sense of menace, beautifully pitched woodwind performances in The Old Castle, and a vibrantly-painted Market At Limoges.

It concluded with a big, bold yet crisply controlled series of thumping passages before the promenade theme returned, clothed in musical pageantry by the RLPO.

The orchestra was also in good form in the other highlight of the night, Rachmaninov's American exile-inspired fourth piano concerto.

Perhaps too good occasionally when, from certain parts of the hall anyway, it threatened to swamp soloist Eldar Nebolsin's fine, flowing piano.

Elsewhere there were spot on dynamics, with a lone flute and piano appearing from the mle of the first movement's meaty, punchy passages, and a romantic swell to the closing allegro vivace.

The programme opened with Rimsky-Korsakov's fantasy take of Tsar Sultan Suite, half lighthearted flourish, half tearful strings, while the quartet of Russian pieces was completed by a something-and-nothing oddity - Stravinsky's Scherzo la Russe.

But with the applause still ringing for a masterful Mussorgsky, it was back to Rimsky- Korsakov for an impromptu encore - with Petrenko losing the battle with his inner imp for a tongue-in-cheek gallop through a showboating Flight Of The Bumblebee.

8/10: picture perfect
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Publication:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England)
Date:May 15, 2009
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