Andrew Gourlay and the RLPO in a Tried and Trusted Programme

United KingdomUnited Kingdom  Wagner, Tchaikovsky, Verdi, Beethoven: Kiryl Keduk (piano), Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra / Andrew Gourlay (conductor), Guild Hall, City of Preston, 6. 10. 2013 (MC)

Wagner: Prelude to Die Meistersinger
Tchaikovsky: Piano Concerto No. 1
Verdi: Overture, The Sicilian Vespers
Beethoven: Symphony No. 5

A few weeks ago in Berlin I interviewed Maestro Donald Runnicles at the Deutsche Oper. We were talking about keeping music fresh and he said how challenging it was for orchestras that play Beethoven and Brahms week-in-week-out not to become complacent at some stage. It certainly takes a lot for an orchestra to keep these standard works sounding fresh and still look forward to playing their umpteenth Beethoven Fifth Symphony. With a widely appealing programme this afternoon concert included three of the most popular works in the whole repertoire and the presence of a guest conductor, so I did wonder if the players would be able to avoid any sense of the routine. Any concerns were unfounded as under Andrew Gourlay the enthusiastic Liverpool Philharmonic played throughout with a freshness that was testament to their professionalism and burgeoning reputation.

It’s always a pleasure to hear Wagner’s Prelude to Die Meistersinger in a concert programme. For those familiar with the way Wilhelm Furtwängler used to conduct the work with his orchestras other interpretations can prove disappointing. Heard all too infrequently, I was delighted to see in the programme Verdi’s overture to The Sicilian Vespers. Yes, there could have been much more searing drama asked from the players but Gourlay’s expansive interpretations provided a very respectable amount of satisfaction. Too loud and unruly in the Wagner, the trumpets and trombones thankfully had become more circumspect by the Verdi.

Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 remains a dearly-loved repertoire staple and it was good to hear talented Belarus soloist Kiryl Keduk’s refreshingly joyous approach to the score. The poetic mastery that can be achieved in the very finest performances was absent and a slight communication issue was evident between soloist and conductor in the opening movement. There was still much to admire in the Belarusian’s crisp and steadfast playing together with a sure sense of nuance and phrasing.

For many music lovers, myself included, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 is the epitome of greatness in music. Judiciously pleasing tempi variations from Gourlay were countered, I felt, by an occasionally uneven approach to the dynamics. Coping well, Gourlay and his energetic players allowed the music to speak convincingly and directly. All afternoon the Liverpool string section sounded in quite remarkable condition. Impressive too were the horn and woodwind contributions, especially the delightful oboe playing of Ruth Davies. I can’t imagine too many of the audience feeling jaded after this fresh and exhilarating performance of such great music.

Michael Cookson