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Lost City

Review: Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at Royal Concert Hall

2 May 22 words: Kevin Stanley

An evening of music with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra was uplifting and inspirational against a backdrop of tough times...

This concert is a big moment for Nottingham's Royal Concert Hall, marking the first appearance of Russian-British conductor Vasily Petrenko, Music Director of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, in the city's famous venue - and this talented man is given a very warm welcome by the audience, kicking off a night full of passion that is very much needed.

First up is William Walton’s Festival Overture, a celebratory piece of music that begins quickly and doesn’t let up; racing along at a fast pace, it feels refreshingly playful. It’s a great way to begin the evening and it is very well received.

Beethoven’s Fifth Piano Concerto Emperor also pleases the audience with its upbeat nature - despite the fact that when it was written in the early 1800s, Beethoven was living in a Vienna that was, at the time, under the siege of Napoleon’s forces. He wrote to his publisher that there was “nothing but drums, cannons, men and misery of all sorts” around him. It’s testimony to his love for music, to his innate musical gifts, that he could have written this amidst the ravages of war. It’s a beautiful piece and, as we continue to see the effects of the war in Ukraine, it is a reminder to us that there is still hope in the world for peace and joy.

I can’t help but feel now that when I’m given the opportunity to watch live music that it is something truly special, having missed it for so long

This stage of his career is often thought of as Beethoven’s ‘heroic’ period, and this is perhaps reflected in the name, although it is not certain as to what Emperor refers. It is, however, certainly grand in both composition and performance - and while it begins wholly optimistically, later in the piece there are plenty of horns, bass and drums all working together to perhaps illustrate the change of feeling in Vienna once Napoleon’s forces had invaded. It is written for piano and orchestra, and solo pianist Boris Giltberg, an Israeli musician of obvious skill and dexterity, rises to the challenge admirably as his abilities are tested to the limit.

The closing piece of music is Vaughan Williams’ beautiful and empathic A London Symphony - it is sweeping, colourful and grand, bringing to mind the sights and sounds of our capital city. Written and performed in four sections, it begins slowly and quietly but soon bursts into life and is full of vigour. It is, at times, quite chaotic, perhaps pointing to the hustle and bustle of the city. Created between 1912 and 1913, it was revised several times by Vaughan before he settled on a final definitive form in 1936. Williams had never intended to write a symphony but he was encouraged to pen it by his friend and fellow composer George Butterworth - to whom it is dedicated. It is a relief that he did, as this is a wonderful piece.

I can’t help but feel now that when I’m given the opportunity to watch live music that it is something truly special. Having missed it for so long, it feels as if it is the medicine that has been prescribed to soothe the ills of the world, whatever they may be - if, of course, only temporarily.

The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra played at Nottingham’s Royal Concert Hall on Friday 29 April

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