© Chris Christodoulou

On Thursday 11 April the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra continued its Icons Rediscovered series at Southbank Centre's Royal Festival Hall with Rachmaninov's 'The Bells' symphony, sung by the Philharmonia Chorus and soloists Mirjam Mesak, Pavel Petrov and Andrii Kymach, and also featured BSL artist Dr Paul Whittaker OBE. It was accompanied by Elgar's In the South (Alassio) and Mieczysław Weinberg's Cello Concerto, performed by soloist Sheku Kanneh-Mason. Music Director Vasily Petrenko led the orchestra and 80-voice choir, soloists for what was a truly moving experience.

All photos © Chris Christodoulou.

Elgar's In the South was a somewhat unexpected offering from a composer from whom the music world was anticipating his First Symphony with baited breath after he had made his name with his Enigma Variations and The Dream of Gerontius. The 20-minute tone poem was inspired by a trip to Italy with his wife, where the landscape evoked images of ancient Roman armies and shepherds wandering the ruins.

This was followed by the Weinberg's Cello Concerto, performed by Sheku Kanneh-Mason. Weinberg, a composer of Polish and Jewish heritage who escaped the Second World War and made his home in Moscow, won the recognition and friendship of Dmitri Shostakovich with his output, though much of it stifled by Stalin's anti-formalist dictums, only emerging after the dictator's death. Sheku's tender interpretation made many who were unfamiliar with the piece new admirers.

"Kanneh-Mason took us straight to the heart of the opening Adagio."
The Arts Desk ⭐⭐⭐⭐

After the long and thunderous applause, Sheku treated the audience to an encore with Weinberg's Prelude No.18 for solo cello.

Finally, Vasily Petrenko led the Orchestra with Rachmaninov's choral symphony, 'The Bells'. Like Elgar, Rachmaninov composed it in Italy during his stay in Rome in early 1907, having been anonymously sent a Russian translation of Edgar Allen Poe's poem The Bells by one of his students. The work recalls the various bells heard through the different stages of life - whimsical sleigh bells in wintertime, grand wedding bells, shrieking alarm bells in times of strife, and solemn funeral bells that await at the grave.

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"Petrenko’s baton played its own part, whipping up fire, tension and a dynamic onslaught rousing enough to make you hope that the Festival Hall would prove sturdier than some of its architectural fittings suggest."
The Times ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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"The Philharmonia Chorus was simply electrifying: hard to believe they weren’t professionals with a knockout sound like that."
The Arts Desk 

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"Belarusian tenor Pavel Petrov captured the right bright sweetness about the first movement; Estonian Mirjam Mesak blossomed in the upper reaches for the almost Tristanesque union of “The Mellow Wedding Bells”; and Ukrainian Andrii Kymach, 2019 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World, provided bass-baritonal anchoring and a painfully expressive core to “The Mournful Iron Bells”.
The Arts Desk 

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Andrii Kymach, Pavel Petrov, Mirjam Mesak, Dr Paul Whittaker OBE and Vasily Petrenko.

The RPO are immensely grateful for all those who came in support of this event. 

"This concert was amazing.Thank you for a great evening!"

"Brilliant evening. Thank you."

"Great concert. No weak links."

"Great show🔥"

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