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Review: John Lill at 75 at Liverpool Philharmonic ****

February 17, 2019

It may have been titled ‘John Lill at 75’ but the latest in the RLPO’s season of concerts turned out to be a joyful Saturday evening musical celebration that spanned the generations.

And not simply because veteran virtuoso Lill plays with same the vigour and dexterity he did at 25.

But also because the Philharmonic Hall was full of real, fresh-faced youthfulness – both on stage where the Phil’s youth and children’s choirs joined forces for the premiere of Gary Carpenter’s Ghost Songs, and in the audience where families had brought siblings out to support their brothers and sisters.

It gave a different energy and dynamic to the auditorium. And despite some of the young audience members being really quite tiny, they were attentive throughout the two-hour programme which one hopes is good news for the future of classical music.

Korngold is a composer who often slips under the radar of public consciousness, so opening the evening with his gloriously (and prescient) cinematic Schauspiel Overture was a real treat.

Something for the young people in the hall to ponder – the future pioneer of the symphonic film score was already a published composer when he arranged this, his first orchestral piece, during his school holidays, aged 14.

The Phil, under Michael Seal’s sympathetic baton, delivered plenty of drama along with the kind of gorgeously lush crescendos that prompt a deep-seated emotional response. Heart-swelling, smile-inducing stuff.

There’s also plenty of drama in Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto, a monumental musical expression with one of the most famous and forthright openings in classical music.

Lill, who having given his first piano recital when he was nine brings decades of experience to the stage, launched in to the extended opening allegro in muscular, full-bodied fashion – matched by an RLPO whose basses, cellos and brass were in thunderous form. Occasionally too thunderous from where I was sitting, submerging the piano under their weight.

But alongside the bombast, Lill also showcased a lovely creamily smooth touch, both in the sweeping first movement and also in a delicate andantino, while the allegro finale was a masterclass in both spicy pacing and sinuous phrasing.

Gary Carpenter is the Phil’s composer in residence this season, and his mystical, melodic and at times dramatically punchy Ghost Songs (an international co, co, co, co-commission) could well prove to be one of its highlights.

The young voices produced beautiful enunciation and some glorious harmonies and impressed with their professionalism.

Lovely songs, and a lovely performance.

The well-constructed programme was concluded with an enjoyable journey through Britten’s Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra in a concert that was just that.

 

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