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Review: Guitar Concerto at the RLPO ****

Liverpool music fans might have happened upon Craig Ogden 24 hours before his official RLPO appearance, taking part in the annual LightNight revelry on Friday with an eclectic choice of pieces that included George Harrison’s Here Comes the Sun.

How many of them, I wonder, were among the modest-sized Hope Street audience again last night, this time to hear him perform Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s sunny yet sad fond farewell to his Italian homeland?

Classical guitar is, by and large, a singular pursuit. And unless electrified like its rock cousin, it’s a delicate soloist, easily drowned out by the addition of surrounding orchestration.

The Italian composer got over this problem by paring down the orchestral accompaniment in his Guitar Concerto to chamber size and allowing each, orchestra and soloist, the space to ‘sing’ in turn.

Ogden, his guitar practically vertical with the neck nestling against his left shoulder (and actually, discreetly amplified by a stage mic),almost seems to hover over the strings rather than visibly pluck them.

The opening allegretto featured warm and colourful orchestration and a mellow, rippling cadenza with upward chord progressions from the soloist, while the central andantino was quietly exquisite.

The final ritmico aside, with its Spanish flourishes played with creamy smoothness and some dextrous finger work, the piece didn’t however, give the guitar virtuoso much of a chance to show off. A fact underlined when he reappeared for an encore and pulled Albeniz’s Sofia out of the bag.

The concerto was preceded by a breezy performance of Respighi’s La Boutique Fantastique suite, a series of dances which gave the RLPO the chance to kick up its musical heels with dizzying revolutions, punctuated by a luscious, layered Nocturne, and the willowy Vasily Petrenko the chance to waft and weave daintily on the box.

The lightness of the first half was thrown in to sharp relief by the Old Testament thunder of Walton’s Symphony No 1 after the interval.

Under Petrenko, the Phil maintained a powerful drive through 45 emotionally-exhausting minutes, Jonathan Small’s winding oboe solo of the opening bars giving way to a weighty lament where a mighty curtain of sound was occasionally lightened and lifted by a shimmer of strings.

The opening allegro was so powerfully-delivered in fact, it precipitated a smattering of spontaneous applause, while the crisp presto gave the percussion some explosive moments.

Even the andante proved punchily poignant under Petrenko’s baton, while the radiance of the final maestoso, a lifting of the storm clouds low over the rest of Walton’s work, was still underscored with forceful drive.

The Phil deserved a lie down - or possibly a stiff drink – after such an expenditure of energy.

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