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Philharmonic Hall, Liverpool

The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic's 2012-13 season commenced with the strange spectacle of soloist Simon Trpceski on his hands and knees, hiking up the piano stool. You would have thought they might have it ready for him, as no one has made this particular stool more their own in recent months than the Macedonian pianist, whose acclaimed Rachmaninov performances with Vasily Petrenko have established the duo as one of the hottest pianist-conductor partnerships on the scene.

Their take on Tchaikovsky proved no less turbulent and enlightening; though the Piano Concerto No 2 is a perplexing piece, in which the piano almost doggedly refuses to form a meaningful relationship with the rest of the orchestra. In the first movement, the soloist repeatedly breaks off in a sequence of sullen, introspective cadenzas. In the second, the piano forms a tentative alliance with the cello and violin, who play what amounts to a slow, private trio among themselves. Trpceski (sublimely aided by RLPO leader James Clark and principle cellist Jonathan Aasgaard) brilliantly articulated the antisocial aspects of the work, which seemed full of the emotional fallout from the composer's disastrously short-lived mariage blanc.

Stravinsky's Firebird is generally heard in the concert hall in one of three abridged orchestral suites. Performing the ballet complete is a higher-risk strategy, as it not only emphasises the lack of dancers, but can also slightly diminish the impact of the work's originality. There's a greater proportion of passages that feel derivative of Stravinsky's teacher, Rimsky-Korsakov; yet when Petrenko unleashed the erratic, rhythmic hammer-blows of the Infernal Dance it sounded like the modern era demanding entry. As a foretaste of the RLPO's year-long survey of the Ballets Russes repertoire, we should be in for an incendiary season.

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Rating: 4/5

Alfred Hickling
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