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Review: Vasily Petrenko RLPO farewell concert *****


And so, farewell Vasily Eduardovich Petrenko, no longer ‘Liverpool’s latest signing’ but off to pastures new after 15 years at Hope Street.

Fifteen years encompassing Capital of Culture (the opening ceremony! The Viennese balls!), several acclaimed Proms appearances, a host of well-received foreign tours, multi award winning recordings and more than 500 concerts.

This final season should have been a 10-month celebration enjoyed by packed houses and with plenty of farewell parties to wave off Russia’s most famous adopted Scouser.

The pandemic put a stop to that. But as Petrenko said, in a final word among a series of standing ovations: “Viruses come and go. Music stays. Emotion stays. Humanity stays.”

He, of course, goes and in September the Phil has a new chief conductor in dashing Venezuelan Domingo Hindoyan – although Petrenko will be back in 2022 as the orchestra’s new ‘conductor laureate’.

Along with the orchestra, and Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Choir – and of course the audience – one of his most enduring partnerships has been with Macedonian piano virtuoso Simon Trpceski.

So it was apt that the ‘Dream Team’ should open this special evening (in front of the largest audience in more than 16 months) and receive the first standing ovation of the night.

Trpceski, a Phil favourite, told the audience: “Really magical moments don’t happen too often in life. I’ve been lucky enough to have many of these here in this hall, with this outstanding orchestra and exceptional conductor, musician and great friend.”

Above: Dream Team Simon Trpceski and Vasily Petrenko. Top: Vasily Petrenko. Photos by Brian Roberts


The programme, again aptly, married Russian and English, the former coming in the shape of Shostakovich’s ebullient Second Piano Concerto, its all-or-nothing allegro a brilliantly bustling Gershwin-like musical metropolis with big, pulsing octave spacing from Trpceski and a swirling vortex of orchestration.

A tender andante tripped straight into the final movement with Trpceski bobbing along to the rhythmic dance of pizzicato strings.

This farewell programme sandwiched an Austrian between Russian and Englishman – yet not, as might be expected given his prominence in the protracted Phil/Petrenko partnership, Mahler, but Franz Schreker.

Schreker was considered one of the most promising artists of the early 20th century, but the Austrian-Jewish composer's post-First World War career as director of the Berlin Academy of Music was destroyed by the Nazi party and he died in 1934.

Der Geburtstag der Infantin, a dance pantomime for chamber orchestra inspired by Wilde’s novella The Birthday of the Infanta and commissioned for Klimt’s 1908 Vienna art show, was his breakthrough work.

And its fresh, freely expressive, at times gloriously cinematic, music offered Petrenko and orchestra a chance to showcase what they have achieved together in marvellous music-making over a decade-and-a-half.

A glimpe back over the last 15 years - montage compiled by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic


The formal part of the evening concluded with Walton’s Façade Suite No 1 – for many of a certain generation an early introduction to music as a BBC Children’s Hour favourite, with the swaggering jocularity of its brief opening polka and giddy, drunken ‘valse’ (Petrenko windmilling at the front) and the crazy cacophony of the tarantelle.

Then it was all too soon over, bar two extra musical titbits – including Elgar’s Carissima – and more speeches.

“Music is something that unites us,” Petrenko told his audience. “It’s something that keeps us going for 15 years. It’s been an incredible journey and there are a huge amount of memories, on stage, off stage, and in the pub and outside the pub…and even on the football pitch!

“…I’m very proud to be a small part of the history of the orchestra.”