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My old pals the RLPO looking weirdly wonky

The Birmingham Post isn’t always able to post online everything that I’ve written for its print edition, so – after a suitable time lag (ideally you should go out and buy the paper) – I’ll be posting my recent reviews here. As per the print edition, they’re all fairly concise – just 250 words. This is of a performance at Birmingham Conservatoire on Wednesday 1 February 2017.

Brummie pride manifests itself in some odd ways. It’s fantastic that we’ll pack out Symphony Hall for the home team, Mirga and the CBSO. But offered the chance to hear an artist as remarkable as the young Russian pianist Daniil Trifonov, to leave banks of seats empty seems very like cutting off your nose to spite your face. True, Trifonov has been extravagantly hyped since winning the Tchaikovsky Competition in 2011. But what his performance with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra demonstrated beyond any doubt is that sometimes, hype is justified.

Trifonov played the Cinderella of Rachmaninoff’s piano concertos, the Fourth. His tone is rich and bright; he sculpts phrases as well as sings them, and he can flash in an instant from sonorous power to quicksilver brilliance. The effect, with Trifonov trailing luminous streams of fantasy across Rachmaninoff’s twilit skies, and Petrenko and his players supplying yearning, lovingly-phrased string tone and powerful rhythmic kicks as required, was as poetic as it was thrilling.

Petrenko and the RLPO had opened with a boisterous account of Stravinsky’s Jeu de Cartes, and devoted the second half to Prokofiev’s Fifth Symphony. The RLPO has an utterly distinctive sound, at its most recognisable when the lower strings glow softly out of the silence. But these players can bite too, and in the monumental first movement Petrenko found a compelling tension between lyricism and steel-toothed aggression.

The scherzo threw coloured sparks in all directions, and the unstoppable machine-music of the finale developed a terrifying momentum. I have it on unimpeachable authority that this performance was a good ten minutes slower than when the CBSO Youth Orchestra played the Fifth a few years back. But I wouldn’t have guessed.