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Review: Beethoven's Eroica at Philharmonic Hall****1/2

There are some concert programmes that send you home with a smile – and this foray into the sound worlds of Barber, Beethoven and the little-known Florence Price proved one of them.

The enthusiasm of genial American conductor Joshua Weilerstein always rubs off. But the addition of violinist Johan Dalene, making his Liverpool debut, into the mix was certainly an extra treat.

The youthful Swedish virtuoso has already impressed audiences in mainland Europe and at last year’s Proms with his detailed and intensely thoughtful interpretation of Barber’s Violin Concerto, and he certainly charmed the Thursday night crowd at the Philharmonic Hall.

He coaxes lustrous, rounded singing tones from his 1736 Stradivarius and within the outline of some impeccable phrasing.

The andante second movement had powerful emotional resonance, and the presto was a firecracker demonstration of brilliant technique and youthful stamina, his violin shimmering like a dragonfly skimming the surface of a pond.

Meanwhile the Phil - under Weilerstein’s meticulous baton – was right there on the ride; from a lovely, full-bodied crescendo in the allegro to a palpable sense of tension and resolution through the second movement to the vivid and impressive, Red Shoes-like dance with the devil whirl of the finale.

Barber is a crowd-pleaser of course, as is Beethoven’s Third with its punchy opening chords, and cracking earworm main theme weaving persuasively and triumphantly through the orchestral sections.

There was a lot to appreciate in what was a vigorous and colourful performance, attentively shaped by Weilerstein who has such an expressive conducting face that it really deserves a ‘conductor cam’ so everyone can enjoy the experience.

His passion for his craft was clear however in an introduction to the opening piece of the evening – Florence Price’s Ethiopia’s Shadow in America.

Price is little known to modern audiences, but she was a prolific and pioneering African American composer of the first half of the 20th Century whose work deserves proper attention and appreciation.

Composed in 1932, this tone poem was lost for more than 75 years before happily being rediscovered earlier this century.

It’s a pleasingly evocative, panoramic piece of musical storytelling with a tangible big sky ‘American’ feel (hints of Gershwin, Copland and even Rodgers and Hammerstein) and a stirring, percussion-punctuated finale. More Florence please!

Top: Johan Dalene. Photo by Mats Backer

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