Review: Rhapsody in Blue at The Liverpool Philharmonic Hall

Posted on 1 March 2015
By Chris High
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The Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra certainly knows the meaning of style. Before a packed auditorium, Carl Davis dressed in white dinner jacket, black trousers and armed with his trusty baton, strode to the podium, turned to his charges and so began an evening filled with laughter and some quite astonishing musical performances.

George Gershwin gave the 1920s their backing track. Both his light-hearted scores, such as the music for 1929s Girl Crazy – of which the Overture introduced proceedings this evening – and more serious compositions, not least of which being Porgy and Bess, set to music the free-living, seemingly care free days of the eponymous Roaring years, but it is 1924s Rhapsody in Blue that set in stone his status as a timeless composer.

With its sweeping, swirling melodies, terrific pace and unforgettable, remarkably thunderous piano sections, Rhapsody in Blue is instantly recognisable and, here, was given free rein, with Ian Buckle performing faultlessly on Piano – backed by an unsurprisingly tight RLPO – thereby providing the piece with a vim and vigour that delighted on every level.

Nevertheless, as if this were not enough, this was a merely a taster and if you think you have a decent sound system at home through which to play your Blu Rays and DVDs then think again, because until you hear the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra provide the score for one of the all time classic movies, you cannot have a true appreciation of what “sound” really is.

1923s Safety Last¬ with its huge, knockabout humour and incredible real-life stunts – the most memorable being Lloyd’s iconic suspension from the face of a clock twelve stories high above the streets of LA (made all the more remarkable given the fact that three years earlier Lloyd had suffered losing three-quarters of one hand in a filming accident) – is timeless and a movie that manages to enthral and suck the audience in as much today as it had, 92 years earlier.

In fact there are several surprises, but none more so than how the audience reacts to what is taking place on screen – the outpouring of laughter so subtly whisks us back through the decades to provide a sample of the atmosphere of the day quite beautifully – and that, despite its skill and prowess, one almost forgets that the orchestra are actually providing a score specifically written by Carl Davis for this performance, who magnificently managed to not only keep the tempo bubbling amongst those seated before him, but also in time with the film itself.

This in itself is a feat of genius and all of which helped make for a superbly constructed, wonderfully memorable evening that will hopefully be repeated sooner rather than later.

George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue / Harold Lloyd in Safety Last.
The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Hall
February 28th, 2015
Conductor: Carl Davis
Piano: Ian Buckle
Running Time: 2 hrs 10 mins
PR Rating: **** Brilliant