The prelude from Glazunov's suite From the Middle Ages doesn't so much look back - in its incorporation of a few mock-archaisms - as stand still.
The prelude from Glazunov's suite From the Middle Ages doesn't so much look back - in its incorporation of a few mock-archaisms - as stand still. It carries a wordy introduction by the composer describing crashing grey waves and a young couple so deeply in love that they are oblivious to the storm around them. Although the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra gave it a sympathetic airing, avoiding too much emotional indulgence in its gentle ebb and flow, a less sombre concert opener would have been more effective in prefacing another work by Glazunov, his Violin Concerto.
The young Canadian violinist Karen Gomyo showed herself more than capable of taking the lead in this short but well-crafted concerto, which reveals Glazunov at his most opulent in the lyrical violin part and accompanying orchestral colours. It allowed Gomyo to introduce all the romantic themes in the three sections of the opening movement with an unforced natural expressiveness and warmth. In the solo cadenza linking the two movements she was unfailingly persuasive, even when Glazunov appears to be doing little more than marking time.
After an uncertain entry by the two trumpets whose fanfare announces the jaunty finale, the orchestra, coloured by trombones and chiming glockenspiel, gave sympathetic support to the soloist's range of technical tricks. From perilous harmonics, gravelly double-stops and dramatic left-hand pizzicatos to her snatch of balalaika-like dance, Gomyo displayed a remarkable musicianship.
Shostakovich's 11th Symphony, The Year 1905, is a work about revolt and, as the world watches events in Ukraine unfold, its theme of oppression and vengeance struck a worrying chord. Gerard Schwarz galvanised his large forces with huge conviction into an almost filmic reading of this powerful score. The chilly atmosphere of the first movement, "Palace Square" - its "stereoscopic" sounds creating the illusion of a visual perspective on the vast space - was pierced by glacial string chords, menacing drum beats, and a remote, haunting trumpet call.
Its stillness threw the explosive second movement, "The Ninth of January", into sharp relief. Brass brayed and woodwind yelped, a battery of percussion threatened to overwhelm, and string-players seemed to raise sparks as their bows scorched across their strings. The eerie halo of quiet string sound that emerged from this led seamlessly into the funereal "Eternal Memory" movement.
The finale, "The Alarm", came across with terrifying intensity and eloquent orchestral sonority, moving from scene to scene, with snatches of revolutionary Soviet tunes materialising as if in a cinema newsreel. It was a performance of extraordinary vehemence in which each detail emerged with vivid immediacy, the RLPO lacking nothing in its commitment to lucidity of sound and its sense of structural certainty.