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Review: A Night in the Tropics at Philharmonic Hall *****

March 14, 2019

Now here’s a question. Can you have too many luscious tunes in one concert?

Unless your ideal is John Cage’s 4’33’’ I’d suggest the answer is, of course not. Even so, chapeau to the RLPO for packing so many big, bounteous melodies in to a single glorious evening of music in Hope Street.

On paper it might not have seemed quite so obvious which could account for the modest size of this Thursday night audience.

Or perhaps they were hiding from Storm Gareth, or Hector, of Iolanthe, or whichever winter wind we’re currently experiencing?

Aptly, or ironically – you choose – the programme included the world premiere of Argentinean composer Claudia Montero’s Vientos del Sur (Winds of the South – not ones we’re generally familiar with here in Liverpool), performed by the charming accordion virtuoso Ksenija Sidorova.

Sidorova was a hit at the Spirit of Christmas concerts a couple of years back.

And here her effervescent style and phrasing proved a perfect fit for Montero’s dramatic and colourful – and deeply melodic - concerto, with its distinct flavour of a late-night Buenos Aires milonga mixed with the feel of a theme to a suave 1960s spy series.

The central largo with its trio of accordion, cello and oboe has a Tim Burtonesque fairytale quality to it, while the final ‘decidido con fuoco’ opened with some crazy Latin beats from the percussion which gave way to sweet melancholic woodwind and strings (just a hint of Hushabye Mountain), juxtaposed with a mad dancefloor charge led by Sidorova.

Enchanting and evocative stuff.

Above: Vasily Petrenko. Photo by Mark McNulty. Top: Ksenija Sidorova. Photo by Gavin Evans

 

The concerto was paired with a charming curiosity by the mid-19th century American composer Louis Gottschalk, whose Symphony No 1 ‘A Night at the Tropics’ contains what's believed to be the first known samba music written for orchestra.

A comparatively sedate samba as it happened, but it gave Vasily Petrenko the chance to shimmy on the box – all that was missing was some frilly sleeves and the gimlet eye of Craig Revel Horwood.

And then after the interval, it was a case of setting sail with Scheherazade on a sea of Rimsky-Korsakov’s most ravishing melodies, played with a powerful, expansive and romantic sweep by the Phil under Petrenko’s baton - and at times a fierce flash of the eyes.

The work also gave several players the opportunity for solos, including leader Thelma Handy - who generated a deeply sweet tone on the violin, bassoonist Rebekah Abramski, and Gordon Hunt on oboe.

Full of dynamic drama, it proved a glorious finale to a hugely enjoyable evening of live music.

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