IT WOULD probably be fair to say that conductor Pietari Inkinen – making his debut with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra – could be known as ‘the quiet man’.
That’s mainly because his pianissimos were simply spine-tingling, sounds barely emanating from the instrumentalists on the stage, but the magic still very much gripping what turned out to be a rather disappointing audience for one of the finest RLPO performances so far this season.
The opening piece, Sibelius’ Scene with Cranes, first appeared as part of Järnefelt’s drama Kuolema and is testament to the composer’s infatuation with wildlife.
Here it was just magnificent: a tiny piece of ever so fragile glass being carefully tended, the tiniest little animal being nurtured. The piece opened with gentle strings and just a pair of clarinets making the running. It might have got a bit agitated in the middle but that did little to disturb the serenity created by this tiny, six-minute fragment.
Contrast that with the might of the Brahms First Piano Concerto in which the soloist was the ever-popular Barry Douglas. The very conception of this work is mind-blowing. Its symphonic proportions would tax any soloist but Douglas sailed through the piece, in command right the way through. The solo part was solid, with both soloist and orchestra painting a giant canvas.
The slow movement, that gloriously romantic adagio, but embellished in an almost classical manner, contained some perhaps overly robust playing. That said, the woodwind chorus was particularly on form and, once again, those orchestral pianissimos, driven by conductor Inkinen, were outstanding.
The finale burst forth at a rip-roaring pace and concluded brilliantly. Bravo to conductor, orchestra and, especially, soloist.
Even after that performance, Douglas returned to give a rounded, sensitive performance of the Brahms Intermezzo, Op 168. It is just as well that he is recording the entire piano output of the composer!
The second half comprised one work: the First Symphony of Sibelius, which could almost be thought of as a symphony of surprises. There’s that mysterious opening, ably worked by both conductor and orchestra. It might be an archly Romantic work, but it is full of delicious dissonances, played to mighty effect. The defined Andante led into a lively, almost riotous Scherzo and a finale where Inkinen tugged out all those heart-rending melodies. A fine performance, indeed.
Glyn Mon Hughes