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Review: Dvorak's Cello Concerto ****1/2

While it’s true proceedings kicked off in Hope Street with the Classic FM birthday, followed by last weekend’s voyage to the New World, tonight’s concert somehow felt like the actual start of the new season.

You had Vasily Petrenko back on the box, fresh from being named Gramophone Artist of the Year, plus the National Anthem, plus no fewer than three RLPO stalwarts receiving accolades for 25 years’ service to the orchestra.

Cellist Ian Bracken gave an amusing speech on behalf of the three (bumper horn Chris Morley and double bass Nigel Dufty being the other two former ‘child prodigies’), although pre-concert proceedings threatened to push the finish time past the 10pm witching hour.

And indeed, it was touch and go whether a kettle drum would turn in to a pumpkin, and Petrenko’s baton an old stick, as the final ferocious moments of Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony were accompanied by the silent chimes of the hour.

It was a stirring finale to a storming evening’s music making at the Phil, with Petrenko and the orchestra setting out its stall with a vividly-executed performance of Barber’s The School for Scandal Overture, which was full of drama and textured musical colour.

The American was paired with Dvorak (a composer who perhaps one could say adopted America) in the first half, with Petrenko’s fellow St Petersburger Alexey Stadler taking on the Czech’s cello concerto.

Alexey Stadler. Photo by Marie Staggart.

The luxuriantly-coiffeured 26-year-old stepped in to the breach at the 11th hour last summer when the RLPO found itself sans soloist at the Proms, flying in from Berlin for the chance to play at the Royal Albert Hall.

Returning to duty, he produced an impressive technical and emotional performance of Dvorak’s symphonic concerto, with a particularly delightful ruminative adagio section which was warm and tender.

And then to Rachmaninov, and the most lusciously rich of symphonies, played with power and passion by the RLPO – showing why it remains possibly the best ‘Russian’ orchestra outside Russia.

The largo was drenched in longing, with heart-rending strings and great soaring phrases underlined by Petrenko’s sweeping arm as if the brass section had just scored a four, while the achingly lovely adagio featured a sweetly sinuous clarinet solo from Angelo Montanaro.

The orchestra had kept, somehow, some energy in reserve and packed it all in to a thrilling, galloping finale.

Repeated on Friday afternoon.

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