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Review: Classic FM Celebrating 25 Years ****

September 8, 2017

It’s been quite a birthday week for Classic FM, which is marking 25 years since it hit the airwaves.

They spent a day with the Royals at Dumfries House in Scotland on Wednesday, before following the Royal theme by decamping to Liverpool for a special celebratory concert with the RLPO last night on the actual anniversary itself.

The Phil and Classic FM first joined forces back in 2001, making Liverpool its longest-serving orchestral partner – as well as being the oldest surviving symphony orchestra in the country.

Much has changed in the world over the past 16 years, let alone 25 or 177. So not only was this concert broadcast live on Classic FM, but it was also streamed live on Facebook, garnering 64,000 likes by the closing bars of the evening alone.

This being Classic FM, the programme was a selection box of big, juicy melodies – nothing too avant garde to frighten the horses, and pieces that have become massively popular because they have been championed by the radio station.

Thus the sell-out audience, and listeners at home, were treated to a hint of Mozart here (Ave Verum Corpus, sung by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Choir), and a touch of Beethoven there – the first movement of his Pastoral Symphony, played with bucolic warmth by the Phil.

 

The choir opened and closed the main programme, with a punchy sonic Zadok the Priest to start, and with the RLPO in a frisky and energetic performance of Borodin’s Polovtsian Dances to finish.

In between links from presenter Bill Turnbull (who forgot to quit the stage at one point and had to loiter among the cellos), there was a spot of Rimsky-Korsakov, with pretty solo bursts from clarinettist Tom Verity and Cormac Henry on flute, a big, bold, brassy Finlandia, a stirring touch of Walton, and a hint of Classic FM favourite Karl Jenkins (Palladio).

Youthful violin virtuoso Callum Smart joined the orchestra and conductor Michael Seal (using an eyesight-defying Lilliputian score) in Bruch’s violin concerto, showcasing excellent technique, mellow tones in the lower registers and some plaintive singing in the upper.

And youthfulness was the watchword of the evening, with the RLPO performing the world premiere of 23-year-old composer Dani Howard’s specially-commissioned Argentum – an effervescent musical imagining of a burgeoning relationship, from Bambi-esque rippling raindrops heralding its birth, to radiant swell of brass, insistent tick-tock motif, strange other-worldliness and massive sonic finish which I assumed means the relationship was a keeper.

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