Review: Petrenko and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, Leeds Town Hall,

Saturday 25th January 2020

A PACKED Leeds Town Hall buzzed in anticipation of this mouthwatering programme. The stamp of enthusiasm and absolute precision imprinted during Vasily Petrenko’s electrifying tenure as the RLPO’s chief conductor was evident from the opening notes of Rossini’s Overture to his opera William Tell. If the elemental force unleashed by Petrenko in the overture’s Storm section and the exhilarating headlong momentum of the brilliantly executed Galop Finale failed to induce a rush of adrenalin, then nothing will.

The striking orchestral colours of the overture became delicate hues, impeccably balanced as a restive backdrop to Vaughan Williams’s The Lark Ascending. His exquisitely wrought Romance for solo violin and orchestra was played here with soaring eloquence by Stephanie Childress, a 2018 BBC Young Musicians finalist.

A set of Schubert songs formed the centrefold of the programme. Benjamin Appl has earned international acclaim as one of today’s most insightful art song interpreters. This engaging young German baritone conveyed the jovial character of Die Forelle (The Trout), piquantly orchestrated by Timothy Jackson, the RLPO’s current principal horn. Du bist die Ruh (You are repose) was sung with loving tenderness over the undulating strings and soft woodwind of Anton Webern’s orchestration. Next came the gently paced Geheimes (A Secret) orchestrated by Brahms. Appl’s majestic Am Tage aller Seelan (The Feast of All Souls) was underpinned by Max Reger’s glowing orchestration. Finally, Franz Liszt’s gripping orchestral transcription of Erlkonig (The Erlking). Appl’s interpretive genius infused with anguish and a spine tingling sense of horror this chilling tale of a father and his afflicted son’s futile attempts to evade the evil spirit of the Erlking.

After the interval, Vasily Petrenko’s perfectly judged tempos and the RLPO’s translucent textures contributed to a riveting, fleet-of-foot performance of Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony No 6 in F. The thunderous tumult of the Storm segued into the golden warmth and ecstatic outpouring of the Shepherd’s Song. But Beethoven’s coda - it ends with just two emphatic F major chords - is ultimately unsatisfying. Not even Petrenko’s magic baton could change that feeling.

Geoffrey Mogridge