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Review: Dream Team returns at Philharmonic Hall ****1/2

“There aren’t many concerts where you come out with a smile on your face,” I overheard one man saying to another in the street outside the Philharmonic Hall.

There also aren’t many concerts where an audience member produces flowers for the soloist and conductor – and gets a big hug from the stage in return.

But then Liverpool long ago decided Macedonian virtuoso Simon Trpceski was one of its own, and his 'Dream Team' musical bromance with conductor Vasily Petrenko (pictured above by Mark McNulty) is something the Philharmonic audience is happy to help celebrate.

Watching him sweep in exuberant fashion though Brahms’ First Piano Concerto however, I was struck by the thought that it’s not just a bromance with the RLPO’s chief conductor, but a match made in musical heaven between the genial Trpceski and the entire orchestra.

The genuine partnership was in evidence throughout the opening Maestoso where Trpceski sat back and listened intently to the dramatic sweep of sound under Petrenko's baton, before easing with fluidity in to the Phil's melodic slipstream, the piano part mirrored gently by a woodwind section which enjoyed something of a starring role in the evening's programme.

The interaction with orchestra continued through a cascading waltz, creating a powerful 'conversation' between band and soloist, which concluded in a satisfyingly big and beautiful finish.

Meanwhile the adagio found him in serene and intimate mood, a brief respite before the glorious torrent of melody of the final rondo.

Like all great musicians, Trpceski (who as you see helped the Phil choose its current concert Steinway) makes his craft look effortless. But close up he exited the stage, after several bows - the audience keen for an encore that didn't come - damp with the perspiration of physical exertion.

Brahms premiered his concerto in Hanover in 1859, followed swiftly be a second performance in Leipzig – where astoundingly he was hissed at by the audience, and his work savaged by critics.

Neither of which are the fate of this performance, being repeated on Sunday afternoon.

The concerto was paired on Thursday night with Brahms Third Symphony in a continuation of the RLPO's exploration of the German's music this season.

Interestingly however, Petrenko had elected to turn normal programming on its head, performing the symphony - which he prefaced with a rather a lengthy, if interesting, introduction exploring Brahms' personal life (complete with youthful performances on the seedy Reeperbahn, and the composer's 'purely platonic crushes') - before the interval and the concerto after.

The RLPO created a lustrous opening packed with warm tones in an allegro which also boasted a creamy clarinet solo.

Petrenko kept the succeeding andante sinuous and expressive, while the poco allegretto third movement boasted lyrical passages through violas and cellos, and plaintive and smooth section by horn and oboe - before the allegro finale, where a punchy Petrenko kept the melody driving in muscular fashion through the entire orchestra.

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