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Review: Russian Passion at Philharmonic Hall ****

Four Russian composers, one Russian conductor, a German cellist, multi-national orchestra and a Liverpool audience together on a late spring Sunday afternoon. Who needs Eurovision?

It was certainly a lot more rewarding listening to this melody-packed Philharmonic Hall concert than ‘tuning’ in to events in Tel Aviv this weekend.

From the flirty and ebullient limb-loosener of Tchaikovsky’s Cossack Dance, with its hummingbird-fast strings and light and lyrical orchestration, to the showstopping Victory of Spartacus, there was plenty of Russian Passion in evidence.

A practically identical concert was recorded by Radio 3 on Thursday night and is set for broadcast om May 27.

But there’s nothing quite like being in the room with the music-making, particularly when it’s of the quality of the Phil and of soloist Alban Gerhardt who together brought Prokofiev’s (and his collaborator Rostropovich’s) formidably testing Sinfonia Concertante for cello and orchestra to life in colourful fashion.

Gerhardt plays a 300-year-old Gofriller cello and it has a lovely mellow timbre, in evidence through the plaintive andante where cello played counterpoint to the grandmother’s footsteps of the orchestra’s opening bars.

The andante also brought a lovely lyrical strings section, while the allegro second movement set off like a galloping horse, tone occasionally sacrificed for speed, but played with hugely infectious energy and lyricism along with impressive velocity which was carried through the cello cadenza.

Glazunov’s light and warmly charming Raymonda Suite opened the second half, its fairytale-like Grand Adagio a particular delight, and a castanet-infused Spanish Dance (with Petrenko sashaying on the box) swirling to a big-hearted finish.

The programme was completed with a sublime and moreish performance of Khachaturian’s Spartacus Suite, with a whip-quick but impressively controlled Variation of Aegina and Bacchanalia and a glorious burnished Scene and Dance with Crotalums.

As for the famous Adagio? The sheer exquisite beauty that Petrenko and the Phil brought to it – the gorgeous oboe line wafting gently into the air, the deep and luscious sweep of Khachaturian’s most enduring melody - had me snuffling and damp-eyed, although if you tell anyone I’ll deny it and claim it was just a touch of hayfever.

Photo of Alban Gerhardt by Kaupo Kikkas

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