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Byline: Catherine Jones

YESTERDAY was a day of high emotion and sombre contemplation in Liverpool - and apparently the RLPO, like many in the city, broke off work to observe the afternoon's two minutes' silence for Hillsborough victims, while orchestra members Jonathan Aasgaard and Ian Buckle played at the vigil at St George's Hall.

But despite the Phil's flag flying at half mast as a sign of respect, there was little sombre about last night's vital, all-Russian programme (repeated this evening), pairing Tchaikovsky's robust Second Piano Concerto and Stravinsky's simmering Firebird, the latter in its full ballet score.

The Phil is set to record the concerto with pianist Simon Trpceski this weekend.

It's always a particular pleasure to hear the Macedonian virtuoso, a Liverpool favourite, and there was plenty of opportunity in a work where the composer often separates orchestra and soloist - the elongated solo cadenzas perfect for showcasing this master craftsman's deft fingerwork and lovely, intuitive phrasing.

Over the years Trpceski has developed a warm musical rapport not simply with conductor Vasily Petrenko, but also the RLPO and in particular leader Jim Clark and cellist Jonathan Aasgaard.

The concerto itself paired the three together, as did a Tchaikovsky encore.

What the concerto and ballet score share, along with their Russian heritage, is a firm sense of drive and momentum.

Added to which, there was a vividness and a shimmering intensity to the Phil's reading of Stravinsky's inaugural work for the Ballet Russes; a rumbling, sotto voce opening with the basses playing grandmother's footsteps, and a weightlessness to the swooping flight of massed strings - replicated by Petrenko's balletic movements on the box.

The Round Dance evoked a pleasing pastoral prettiness, and it was juxtaposed with a stirring, surround-sound blast of brass through the works Magic Carillon and Infernal Dance, the latter a great example of Petrenko's precision and control - reaching a bone-rattling crescendo before turning, on a celeste dime, to ethereal woodwind.

The conductor has revealed there are perhaps two performances a season with which he is completely satisfied. Whether last night's met his exacting standards is hard to tell, but there was a definite smile as he left the stage after the final ovation.

9/10 finely tuned
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Publication:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England)
Date:Sep 13, 2012
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