A trilogy of music, Edvard Grieg’s Peer Gynt: Suite No 1, Op 46, Franz Liszt’s Piano Concerto No 1 in E Flat Major and Sergei Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, Op 64: Suite create an emotional and powerful evening of music. Conductor, Diego Matheuz guides the orchestra and works wonderfully with pianist, Stephen Hough for Liszt’s dark concerto.

My personal highlight of the evening, Grieg’s Peer Gynt is both heart-warming and haunting. Originally written for the strange and dark world of Ibsen’s play, the vividness of the Suite truly brings the story to life. Opening with Morning Mood, a popular melody, which utilises beautiful and gentle call and response techniques, this is a beautifully luminous piece. Contrasting with the heart-wrenching but defiant, The Death of Ǻse, this is a fairy tale in which you will become truly lost. Anitra’s Dance features tinkling percussion and plucked strings imitating enthusiastic and hypnotic footsteps. We then return to another popular piece, In the Hall of the Mountain King, well-known for its association with Alton Towers and it is clear why they chose this mysterious and jagged piece for their advertising. The powerful climax truly shows off the impressive speed of the orchestra.

Liszt’s concerto is dramatic and threatening from the outset. String fanfares pre-empt a melancholia which is surrounded by a determination. Impressively performed by Hough together with the orchestra, moments of calm are contrasted with thrilling elements emphasised by tinkling piano keys and triangle. You feel something of darkness approaching and then are completely immersed in it. The thundering climax is breath-taking.

The second half comprises Prokofiev’s compelling ballet based on Shakespeare’s beloved tragedy. Declared “undanceable” when it was written, this is in fact an example of how a piece of music can truly be used to illustrate a story, much like the performance of Peer Gynt, this is an immersive and mesmerizing performance which completely draws you in.

The drama of the Montagues and Capulets is illustrated in a piece made popular by television’s The Apprentice. A strong baseline brings to the fore the hateful and violent conflict between the two families after they have been told by the Prince to keep the peace. The regal innocence of Juliet the Young Girl superbly conflicts with the first piece, illustrating both her developing emotional state and her restricted place in the world. In Minuet we find ourselves at the party which changes the lives of the two lovers forever. The carefree and light melodies conflict with a subtle darkness which shows all is not well. This is followed by the mysterious and careful tones of Masks.

Intense emotional feeling is created by harp and piano when the two lovers meet in Romeo and Juliet before the energetic Morning Dance returns us to plucked strings producing footsteps, this time supported by the drum section which warns us that all is not well in this world. The volume increases as the tension ramps up before we abruptly flashback to Romeo at the Fountain which utilises the beautiful tones of the harp to imitate running water and dreams of love. The Death of Tybalt is powerful, using rapid strings, clanking percussion and shrieking brass to create a tense and tragic fight and the vengeance which follows. Surprisingly poignant, this is a memorable part of the piece. Quick and lively pops from percussion in Morning Serenade focuses on the tambourine to create an impression of a joyous wedding day with a background desperate sadness as reality comes crashing down. The despair of Romeo at Juliet’s Tomb has echoes of determination before the angry, horrified and desperate sadness of Juliet’s Death. Staccato notes and tinkling bells immerse you completely in the tragedy of the ending, creating a truly overwhelming feeling and showing, without doubt, the true power an orchestra can have.

Reviewer: Donna M Day

Reviewed: 12th March 2020

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★★