Liverpool’s status as Capital of Culture was afforded due recognition in this Prom given by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Vasily Petrenko. Appropriately the programme began with new work from a local hero not another classical offering from Sir Paul, before you run for cover a new commission from their Composer in the House, Kenneth Hesketh.
Entitled Graven Image this compact 15-minute piece may be dismissed by some as broad and cinematic but the abiding memento mori theme offers a complex and substantial subject matter, and Hesketh’s score invites some interesting comparisons with the later Rachmaninov piece.
It is doom-laden from the start with echoing death-knell repetitions but it sounds glamorous, almost film-noirish, in the first half: fluttering woodwind and glockenspiel glitz overlying sinister, heaving strings. Gradually the crescendo builds to a blast of lacerating (Psycho-style) staccato chords and orchestral tumult, but thereafter the tension deflates somewhat to end with a neat, if perfunctory, chime.
Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No 4 showcased the talents of another celebrated Liverpudlian, pianist Paul Lewis. On the whole it amounted to a sensitive and personal performance but I felt that Lewis’ contribution at times lacked definition, leaving us to finish the occasional note off, and although he stuck to Beethoven’s own cadenza in the ‘Andante con moto’, even that sounded a little cluttered. The piece is characterised by the teasing-taunting relationship between solo instrument and ensemble, and one wonders if the orchestra was leading Lewis slightly astray.
Petrenko seemed to command a greater focus after the interval with the orchestrated version of Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances. This, the composer’s final piece, veers between exquisite sadness and garish grotesquery, and its pulsating rhythms were brilliantly realised here. Kyle Horch made much of his heart-wrenching alto sax solo in the first ‘Midday’ section, and all instruments were effectively deployed in the ‘Moonlight’ movement’s manic, lurching waltz introduced by the delirious first violin (Thelma Handy) before culminating in the thrilling violence of ‘Midnight’