Royal Philharmonic – Live Review – Hull City Hall
By Karl Hornsey, February 2020
The latest concert in the Hull City Hall Classics season saw the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra on fine form, in pieces by Kodaly, Rachmaninov and Dvorak. Having attended several concerts over the past few years at Hull City Hall, given by a number of different orchestras, I can safely say that this was the most enjoyable and impressive to date. From start to finish, it was an absolute triumph, under the pitch-perfect direction of conductor Kerem Hasan (pictured above).
The opening piece, Zoltan Kodaly’s ‘Dances of Galanta’, is probably the least well-known of the three on the evening, but was 16 minutes of pure joy. Kodaly used his formative years living in the countryside to learn all about his native Hungarian folk songs, and ‘Dances of Galanta’ (now part of Slovakia) is his homage to genuine peasant Magyar music, which features prominent clarinets and flutes, to create a series of four distinct and upbeat tunes.
The centrepiece of the concert was Rachmaninov’s ‘Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini’, which has become one of the composer’s most popular works. While the piece and its 24 variations are performed in one stretch, it could easily be broken up into three, and provides a technical challenge for any pianist. Fortunately, this was in the hands of Romanian-born maestro Daniel Ciobanu, who, as a late stand-in for the injured Mark Bebbington, produced a mesmerising demonstration of his talents. Working with the full orchestra, Ciobanu had the audience in the palm of his hands, none more so than during the well-known 18th variation, that has been used in countless films and TV series over the years.
The finale to the evening was Antonin Dvorak’s ‘Symphony No 9’, commonly known as the New World Symphony, and a regular staple in the upper echelons of the Classic FM Hall of Fame. In keeping with the opening piece by Kodaly, there is a sense of going back to a country’s traditional roots from which to draw inspiration. While in Kodaly’s case it was from Hungary, with Dvorak it came from a trip to America, and hearing the music of the Native Indian and black communities. This subsequently set a trend for American composers to follow, but none have managed to better the beauty of the Bohemian master’s original, and Neil Armstrong even took a recording of it with him on the Apollo 11 moon landings mission.
This is generally a lively and fast-paced piece, but it would be almost impossible to not mention the second movement and the wonderful clarinet, bringing to life possibly the most well-known part of the symphony, yes, it’s the almost legendary Hovis advert of course. But there is so much more to the movement and to the whole symphony, which was a sublime reminder of the importance and influence of folk songs on some of the most popular and well-known pieces of classical music.