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Review VASILY PETRENKO, RLPO Philharmonic Hall.

Byline: by Joe Riley

FEEL free to cut out and keep this prediction: When Vasily Petrenko completes his contract as the Liverpool Phil's chief conductor in 2012, he will be heading for a job in America.

Following sensational appearances with the Cincinnati and Dallas symphony orchestras, next season holds the promise of Los Angeles, San Francisco and Atlanta.

The writing is well and truly on the wall.

Meanwhile, he returns for a tranche of Hope Street dates clutching two works with direct American connections, and both featuring Kirill Gerstein, yet another Russian emigre pianist (after last week's return appearance by Boris Giltburg).

George Gershwin's Rhapsody In Blue - beginning with the hallmark clarinet glissando - is the pioneer cross-over exercise between club and concert hall.

Among the host of celebrities at its New York premiere in 1924 was Sergei Rachmaninov, responsible for Gerstein's first sortie, the more successfully played Rhapsody On A Theme Of Paganini.

Rachmaninov, in his later masterpieces, fell under the spell of Hollywood blockbuster scores, and this evergreen favourite, bestknown in the UK as the adapted signature tune for TV's South Bank Show, proves the point.

Big, broad, and with a dash of bravura. What more could a showman and his band want - with the possible exception of the Gershwin score, which feeds three saxophones, a guitar and a standard drum kit into the mix?

The mood in both cases is brash and up-beat - proving the programmatic claim that rhapsodies are, by their nature, outpourings of "ecstatic expression".

While the opening flourish, a Romanian Rhapsody by George Enescu (a chap who memorised Wagner's entire Ring Cycle) again underlined the point by parading a series of folk tunes, the concluding Rhapsodie espangnole by Maurice Ravel proved the exception.

The 'night-time' prelude is sinister enough to provide a soundtrack for a horror movie rather than awaken thoughts of sunny Spain.

But, gradually, the momentum and the mood brighten, but still with the dark, descending fournote theme present.

Petrenko and players matched the demands, even if the fated composers, one poverty-stricken, one struck down in his prime, another homesick and the other emotionally flawed, had us kidded.

Concert repeated tonight.

Rating: 8/10 Mood swings
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Publication:Liverpool Echo (Liverpool, England)
Date:Feb 5, 2009
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