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Review: Weller worth a full house; Walter Weller Philharmonic Hall.

Byline: Joe Riley

WALTER WELLER, the Liverpool Phil's former chief conductor from the late 1970s, returned this week to direct a concert featuring what is probably the finest piano concerto ever written.

So why,one wonders, was the Phil having another of its half-empty hall nights?

More to the point,just how long can these atrocious turnouts be tolerated?

We were told many months ago by the city council that a condition of the Philharmonic's much improved grant (up eight-fold to pounds 800,000) was that unsold seats must be filled - even if that meant giving bundles of tickets away on street corners.

An empty seat is always an empty seat for the duration of a concert. It cannot be claimed back or put in credit. Therefore,it should be used for the benefit of ratepayers,especially when it is the ratepayers who are helping to make the thing happen in the first place.

Fortunately, there is another opportunity tomorrow to enjoy this excellent programme, which also includes the Fifth Symphony of Russian composer Alexander Glazunov, still best known for his ballet music The Seasons, and for a quirky Saxophone Concerto written in Paris during the last year of his life.

However,it is Brahms'First Piano Concerto, played by Gerhard Oppitz, which is deservedly at the centre of things.

A violinist brings his or her own instrument to a concert, but a pianist has to use the instrument in situ. And it can never be a case of ``a piano is a piano is a piano''.

Close your eyes,and this could have been Oppitz's legendary mentor Wilhelm Kempff at the keyboard.

Rather than what might be called the straightforward stormy head-on attack to the concerto's opening movement, Oppitz immediately creates a more mellifluous, liquid sound world, full of intelligent phrasing.

The man himself also makes it look so casual.

But neither the tell-tale laid back Kempff style, nor the actual platform manner,prevent the natural drama of this great piece - really a symphony with a piano part - emerging.

Walter Weller, as economic and impressive as ever, has specialised in the Russian repertoire, especially the music of Rachmaninov.

But this symphony of bountiful, if sometimes undeveloped melodies, from a near contemporary, provided a welcomingly different perspective.

RATING:8/10

Piano magic
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Publication:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England)
Date:Apr 25, 2003
Words:381
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