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Review: Pride of place for Williams; JONATHAN SMALL Philharmonic.

Byline: Joe Riley

LIVERPOOL'S pop music history is continually shouted from the rooftops.

But what of the city's much longer classical heritage?

Customarily stylish playing by the Liverpool Philharmonic's Jonathan Small unearthed a neglected Oboe Concerto by Ralph Vaughan Williams.

It was premiered in Liverpool in 1944 by the legendary Leon Goossens, a son of the city, and the greatest British oboist of the 20th century.

The piece offers further proof of Vaughan Williams' pride of place among our native composers at the time, transcending the cloying achievements of Elgar who had died a decade earlier, and still speaking with a richer, more vigorous voice than even his prime younger rivals William Walton, Michael Tippett and Benjamin Britten.

It was interesting that Jonathan Small chose a short virtuosic solo study by Britten as an encore.

However, it was the earlier pastoral lyricism of Vaughan Williams's enduring ability to give a new dimension to tried and tested forms (in this case plainchant) which lingered in the memory.

Beethoven, knocked very much down-bill with his least interesting Eighth Symphony, was not beyond the propaganda of depicting war and conflict.

Haydn had done the same, and Tchaikovsky and Shostakovich followed suit.

But 80 years ago, the Danish composer Carl Nielsen was defining a more idealistic struggle between good and evil in his Fifth Symphony.

Conductor Douglas Bostock provided a fine replay. Graham Johns spectacularly led the percussion onslaught embodying the advance of wickedness, beneath which even the tiny bird-like voices of nature, depicted by woodwind, are left screeching from the tree-tops.

But there is also great eloquence, most notably the climbing and sustained intensity of the strings, reminiscent of Samuel Barber's famous Adagio.

But why was the Philharmonic Hall half empty, when we were told by the city council that unsold seats would be occupied by students and special underprivileged groups who could not afford tickets?

This was meant to be the price of massively increased susbsidy.

Be warned: Once the fireproof protection of the Capital of Culture bid is passed, the Phil will stand or fall by its ticket sales.

Last night's result is just not good enough.

RATING: 8/10

Call of nature
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Copyright 2002 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England)
Date:Oct 11, 2002
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