It’s hard, sometimes, to understand quite what a musical maelstrom is represented by the first quarter of the 20th century.
So much was changing: harmonic language used by so many was being challenged by those who wanted to push boundaries ever further; conventional parameters were constantly being pushed. And there, in the midst of it all, was the Ballets Russes, which did so much to usher out the old and bring in the new.
The latest concert in this fascinating series pitted the Italian composer Respighi against Stravinsky and Prokofiev.
Stravinsky’s involvement is, perhaps, obvious. Prokofiev slightly less so: it was just that he started work on his Third Piano Concerto after the staging of his first ballet score The Buffoon in 1915.
Then there was Respighi. He had been commissioned by Diaghilev to produce a new score for a revival of The Enchanted Puppet. And so we get La Boutique Fantastique, a fun-filled fantasy based on the music of Rossini.
This is a bombastic piece, enjoyed to the full by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra under Vasily Petrenko. Respighi gives his forebear the full treatment, giving the original harmonies a twist of 20th century piquancy, made all the more fun-filled by the swaggering way in which Petrenko led the orchestra.
Russian pianist Denis Kozhukhin made his Liverpool debut with a brilliantly sparky Prokofiev Third. Often asking more questions than giving answers, there was a lively opening which led into an elegant slow movement, with a lively, almost defiant finale.
Petrushka, in its original 1911 version, was another fine performance, often grand, sometimes grotesque, with some fine solo playing in The Moor’s Room.
Glyn Mon Hughes