Review: Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, Buxton Opera House

Julian%20Rachlin%20conducting%202Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra with Julian Rachlin, Buxton Opera House

If anyone had any doubts about Buxton’s good fortune to host this concert then they would have been rapidly dispelled. The RLPO is one of the best orchestras in the country and Julian Rachlin is a dynamic and world-class musician. The programme was made up by works by Mozart and Mendelssohn and included some of the most-loved pieces in the repertoire.

In the pre-concert talk Julian spoke about his love for this music and about how he felt it must be played. Julian was born in Lithuania 40 years ago but moved to Vienna with his family when he was three. He spends much of the year travelling and performing but Vienna is still his home.

He said: “Nearly all the great composers passed through Vienna – you can feel the aura as you walk through the streets. What I love about Mozart is the depth in his music. There are champagne moments of joy alongside touches of great vulnerability.

“Mendelssohn’s music was neglected for many years after his death. He, like Mozart, wrote music of great maturity as a very young man. Sometimes now his music is played too sweetly. The Violin Concerto is dramatic and multi-layered. It is a virtuoso piece but is also introverted at times – you shouldn’t add too much sugar to it.”

Julian has been working hard with the RLPO for two weeks as artist is residence and he has met, and played for, many young people in the city. Tonight was the first time he had conducted the Orchestra. For the Mendelssohn Concerto he could not conduct and play at the same time and so “there is no conductor, the musicians have to take more responsibility for this piece. And they enjoy that.”

The concert began with Mozart’s overture for The Marriage of Figaro. This is famously short but was not taken at breakneck speed. The performance meeting the requirements set out in the programme notes: “the ideal performance is one that matches exhilarating bustle with clear articulation.” As such it was the ideal introduction and reminder of the thrill of hearing a symphony orchestra on the Opera House stage rather than the pit.

Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E minor followed. This is full of glorious melody but true to his promise Julian did not allow it to become saccharine. There was pathos and wistfulness in his playing as well as great exuberance. His delivery of the cadenza was totally captivating; this was life-affirming music and playing.

The second half began with Mozart’s Symphony No 35. The original material from which this work was extracted was written quickly, under some pressure and with reluctance by Mozart. When he came to review and edit the work he was happily surprised by what he found and it is now regarded as one of his major symphonic achievements. Julian conducts without a score and this enables him to engage directly with the Orchestra persuading it to play what he wants to hear from them.

This approach was shown at its best in the final piece, Mendelssohn’s Symphony No 4 – “Italian”. Mendelssohn loved the time he spent in Italy and said that his visit inspired this music, his ‘jolliest’ yet. The final movement – incorporating Italian folk dance elements – is dramatic, intense and richly joyful. Julian, on the podium, frequently had both feet off the platform as he urged the Orchestra on. This was a wonderful end to a evening of brilliance.

This concert was part of a residency in Buxton by the RLPO. The third and final part is on December 9 when violinist James Clark and cellist Jonathan Aasgaard give a lunchtime recital of music by Ravel and Glière. There is additional good news – the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra will be back in Buxton next year.

Keith Savage