Despite the discord between the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and its outgoing music director, Gerald Schwarz, it was business as usual at the opening concert of the new season. The friction between orchestra, management, board and conductor has been well documented, indeed sensationalised, in some newspapers in recent months. When the announcement came in the summer that Schwarz's contract would not be renewed beyond 2005-6, it struck a sour note in the run-up to the celebrations in 2007 for the 800th anniversary of the city's founding and its selection as European Capital of Culture the following year.
It's not an easy situation, living out a couple of seasons with the partner you're divorcing, especially since Schwarz has declined the offer of future access with the orchestra. Not only would that have given the impression of a demotion; it would inevitably have curbed the free hand he now enjoys in artistic planning. But was the launch of the season - albeit one with noticeably fewer of the musical eccentricities that previously appeared to be emptying the hall - with Panufnik's Heroic Overture a gesture worth making?
The programme must have been in place before the ructions, however, and Schwarz, a champion of Andrzej Panufnik, could not have foreseen just how appropriate its note of defiance might sound. After the bold open- ing clangour, inspired by patriotic feelings unleashed by Germany's invasion of Poland in 1939, the brief score is unremitting. The orchestra gave a vividly dramatic account, cutting a clear line through bursts of stuttering snare-drum, dissonant blazing brass and scuttling strings.
If the remarkably accomplished Chloë Hanslip, at just 17, doesn't yet have quite the technique to articulate every tricky run in Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto, she produces a beautifully pure sound, fresh and bright in the outer movements and heard to its best advantage in the muted intimacy of the central Canzonetta. Schwarz and the orchestra provided a sensitive accompaniment, especially in the engaging final rondo where Hanslip showed an appealing rapport with the music's vigorous high spirits.
Schwarz's unhurried interpretation of Brahms's Fourth Symphony allowed the opening movement to unfold with a poignant, reflective quality, and gave the slow movement a serenity to which gentle clarinet tone added an autumnal air. Piercing piccolo and the brittle jangle of a triangle added their surface glitter to the scherzo while Cormac Henry's exquisite flute solo cast a shadowy sunlight on the exhilarating finale.
It was encouraging that the RLPO's Classic FM series is attracting business support, with guests and some new concertgoers joining a large turn-out of regulars. Apart from the persistent issue of mobile phones, though, what can be done to politely discourage chattering during the performance?