top of page

Review: Alberga and Shostakovich at Philharmonic Hall ****1/2

When Kazakh Alim Beisembayev won the Leeds International Piano Competition three years ago, part of his extensive prize package was the commissioning of a new concerto by the RLPO.

The result, from the fertile creative mind of British-Jamaican composer Eleanor Alberga, finally received its (triumphant) world premiere last night.

Presented between Roussel’s all-action Bacchus and Ariadne orchestral suite – a favourite of conductor Domingo Hindoyan who brought some crisp storytelling to the party – and Shostakovich’s mighty and complex Fifth Symphony, the concerto formed an exhilarating heart to a programme that certainly gave a busy Philharmonic Hall plenty of bang for its buck.

Last season the Phil programmed a pair of Alberga’s existing works – her energetic and rhythmically-driven musical portrait Tower, and a piano quintet performed by members of the orchestra and Isata Kanneh-Mason.

Like Tower, the new piano concerto is also rhythmically driven, a throbbing propulsion to its melody-rich outer movements (hints of Bernstein, to this reviewer’s ears at least), with a cool and composed Beisembayev creating rangy fireworks at the keyboard while turning the pages of his tablet-based score with a brisk tap of the foot.

Meanwhile a contrasting middle section had a raindrop effect on piano complemented by percussion, which exemplified the deft and sympathetic writing for the section throughout the piece.

Above: Alim Beisembayev. Top: With chief conductor Domingo Hindoyan and composer Eleanor Alberga. Photos by Gareth Jones.

If the opening movement was big city hustle and bustle, there was an aural step back towards nature at the start of the scherzo second, introduced in the winds and with a sudden chiming punctuation stop, between which Beisembayev produced a delightfully puckish cadenza.

Alberga’s tender third movement came with a toothsome woodwind melody, pastoral strings, and a shimmering Rachmaninov-like romanticism, before a return to the pulsing, jet propulsion of the opening movement in a scorching finale which Beisembayev contrived to make look effortless despite the preceding 25-minute workout.

Amid a warm ovation, a beaming Alberga embraced him on stage.

It was Shostakovich who took centre stage after the interval in an equally spirited performance by Hindoyan and the Phil that nurtured the work’s shapely melodies while injecting plenty of power and dynamic drama into its opening movement and particularly its tidal wave of a finale.

There was delight within the jolly, folksy, knowingly cock-eyed dance of the scherzo second movement, while Hindoyan crafted a heartfelt requiem-like third – with delicate, singing strings, harp, celeste and a solo oboe winding its lonely lament.

Above: Violist Richard Wallace receives a signed photo of the orchestra from chief executive Michael Eakin. Photo by Gareth Jones.

With the concert being filmed for Medici TV (available from May 11) and recorded for Radio 3 (on air on May 14) – based in rival boxes flanking the stage – there’s plenty of opportunity to hear it again… or enjoy it for the first time.

Meanwhile if not all change, there are certainly changes afoot as the current season draws to a close with several long-serving members of the orchestra hanging up their bows or putting away their reeds/mouthpieces.

Perhaps none more long serving than violist Richard Wallace, dubbed ‘father of the house’ by chief executive Michael Eakin and who was recognised at the top of the concert for his sterling 45 years of dedication to the Philharmonic family.

That’s an awful lot of rehearsals, concerts and tours. If anyone deserves to put up his feet at the end of the season it’s him.


bottom of page