It’s quite remarkable to think that the Hull Philharmonic Orchestra has been entertaining audiences since 1881, under an array of renowned conductors, including Sir Henry Wood, founder of the Proms.
The orchestra perform a regular calendar of three concerts at Hull City Hall, and this was the final one of a memorable 136th season, featuring pieces by Sibelius, Dvorak and Prokofiev, with the latter’s piano concerto performed by internationally acclaimed pianist Alessandro Taverna.
Under conductor and musical director Andrew Penny (pictured above) since 1982, the orchestra is in safe hands, as is demonstrated by being able to attract talent of the likes of Taverna on a regular basis.
The concert gets under way with Symphony No 7 in C major by Jean Sibelius, which turned out to be the Finnish composer’s final major work and one of his masterpieces, so much so that Sibelius, who composed the piece in 1924, declared that he wouldn’t write another symphony unless he could top this one.
It’s also a testing one for the orchestra, given that it’s a symphony in just one movement, rather than the more traditional four; an experiment by Sibelius that was considered somewhat rash at the time. Despite its complexity, as one would expect, it was played beautifully by the orchestra, with particular credit going to Peter Walker on trombone, whose depth cut through the largely string-based composition on three memorable occasions.
The highlight of the evening, however, came in the second piece, as Taverna took to the stage on the Steinway in a performance of Prokofiev’s Concerto No 3 in C major. While at various points the clarinet and flute come to the fore, this is really a tour de force to show off Taverna’s remarkable talents for 30 minutes of mesmerising artistry.
While the symphony is far from being one of Prokofiev’s most commonly known and performed, it is one that provides a huge technical challenge to the pianist, which adds an intensity that the entire composition maybe lacks. Taverna, without being overly showy or demonstrative, dived into his work with gusto and had the audience enthralled. So much so that he returned to the stage to offer a surprise performance of ‘Where Sheep May Safely Graze’, originally written by Johann Sebastian Bach as a birthday celebration in 1713.
Taverna has already packed a remarkable amount into a relatively short amount of time, and I look forward to seeing how the Venice-born pianist continues in his career.
The final piece, following the interval, was Symphony No 5 in F major by Antonin Dvorak, with the piano removed and the focus on the orchestra’s woodwind, brass and percussion instruments. Again the clarinets and flutes are showcased in this composition, along with the beautiful sound of the oboes, which carry the piece at a relatively gentle pace, which just occasionally bursts into life and gallops towards an uplifting finale.
The three pieces together provided another showcase for the Philharmonic’s remarkable array of talent, and left us looking forward to the start of season number 137 later in the year.