Harrogate Festival Finale: Royal Liverpool Philharmonic With Julian Bliss
Founded in 1840 by a group of Liverpool music-lovers, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic is the UK’s oldest continuing professional symphony orchestra and one the world’s oldest concert societies.
Led by Singaporean conductor Kahchun Wong, who has developed a reputation as one of the most exciting conductors of his generation, they delivered an outstanding final concert.
With an abundance of infectious melodies, and a conductor who extracted every last ounce of detail in terms of expression, articulation and dynamics, Puccini’s Capriccio Sinfonico, was a wonderful curtain raiser.
This was followed by a stunning performance of Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in A major by Julian Bliss; demonstrating a faultless technique, he made the trickiest of passages look effortless.
The balance between soloist and orchestra couldn't have been better - this was an equal partnership, with lovely interplay between the two.
Although the tempo of the adagio was a little on the slow side for my taste, Bliss produced a luminous tone with the most sublime shaping of phrases. The return of the main tune - starting softly then gradually expanding in dynamic and tone was truly moving.
The soloist's nonchalant, jaunty attitude and lightness of delivery in the rondo finale caught the joyful, life affirming spirit of Mozart's music perfectly - a tour de force performance.
Fully expecting to sit back, relax, and let Brahms Symphony No. 4 wash over me, I was in for a surprise: Kahchun Wong delivered a mesmerising performance which demanded it be listened to with full attention.
In terms of form and orchestration this is a true Romantic symphony, but Kahchun Wong's rendition was almost Classical in its lightness, clarity, and precision. It was dramatic and thrilling in all the right places, but without a hint of brashness, or undue sentimentality which can sometimes creep into this work - Kahchun Wong simply refused to over-egg key moments.
Maybe because of this, there were times when I felt I was hearing this work for the very first time: each section of the orchestra could be clearly heard - indeed there was a gorgeous melodic fragment from the violas midway through the third movement that I had never noticed before.
Along with a full, yet sweet tone from the upper strings, the string section as a whole gave a rhythmically alert performance that drove the music forward throughout.
Once again, I was struck by how much Brahms has in common with Dvorak in his wonderful writing for woodwind. The horns, woodwind section and in particular, the clarinet and flute solos in the third and fourth movements were outstanding.
I was very impressed by conductor Kahchun Wong's ability to let the music breathe - it was fascinating to watch the way in which he used his whole body to conduct and shape the music.
An enthralling concert, and a fitting finale to the Harrogate International Music Festival.