Review – Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Holst’s The Planets, Jack Liebeck, Derngate, Northampton, 28th November

RPO Planets ConcertAnd so the new Royal Philharmonic Subscription series starts again with a jolly programme of Elgar’s Cockaigne Overture, Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E Minor and Holst’s Planets Suite. They know what they’re doing, these programmers – this ultra-appealing programme meant there was barely a spare seat in the house.

Andrew Litton Andrew Litton was our conductor; he has a very formal appearance in full frock coat and very tidy hair. He looks like a man who is very comfortable with the number of pies he has eaten – quite a few, but not all of them. His style is not over-demonstrative although he does get a bit carried away at the most vigorous moments.

In the past I’ve always found the Cockaigne Overture goes on a bit, but this time it sounded fresh as a daisy, colourfully illustrating all those London characters with spark and shazam.

This was a mere “amuse bouche” before Jack Liebeck’s solo in the Mendelssohn. I am new to the music of Mr Liebeck. He is thirty years old and his sister went to school with my cousin’s daughter. When he was a boy he was really into his football. Jack LiebeckThat’s not the Jack Liebeck who takes centre stage with his violin though. I was both extremely impressed and somewhat disappointed by his performance. Extremely impressive was the actual sound he got out of the instrument. Rarely will you hear a violin sound so pure, so clean, so accurate. If his violin were a singer, it would be a choirboy whose voice is yet to break. It’s quite exquisite. However on the downside, I found it just a trifle cold, passionless, reserved. You don’t get any extra appreciation of the music by watching his facial expressions. He’s kind of the opposite of this lady.

But I am not quibbling because the sound was super.

After the interval we had the old warhorse that is Holst’s The Planets. We all know this piece like the back of our collective hands, don’t we. There’ll be no surprises here then. WRONG! I’ve never heard Mars played with such thrilling attack. It crashed and clashed on the stage, stabbed and shook, looked you right in the eyes and defied you not to be carried away. And thus the standard for the rest of the evening was set.

Venus sounded absolutely beautiful, Mercury was proper ethereal, Jupiter every inch the chart topping magnificent thing it is; Saturn was bold and brave, Uranus vivid and jokey and Neptune reflective and disconcerting. I have to say though that there was a hugely discordant wrong note played in my favourite passage of Uranus (no smutty jokes please) and it sounded horrendous to my ears, but I forgave them because the rest of the show was so splendid. Just as Holst would have liked, they bussed the Ladies of the London Symphony Chorus up to Northampton so that they could go “la la la” at the end of Neptune backstage, with no trace of where the voices were coming from. Spooky, effective, fantastic.

You spoil us, Mr Ambassador.

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