This well attended Sunday afternoon Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra concert saw Andrew Manze take an extraordinarily gentle approach to Bruckner's Fourth Symphony after a performance of Beethoven's Emperor concerto which rattled the shutters almost as much as the raging Storm Ciara outside.

Andrew Manze © Benjamin Ealovega
Andrew Manze
© Benjamin Ealovega

Korean pianist Yeol Eum Son was soloist for the Beethoven, following an approach of persistent power while staying just the right side of bombastic. In the slow movement her gently wandering piano line sang elegantly above a warm bed of strings, but the outer movements had a blazing sense of martial drive which rarely wavered. The finale in particular exploded into view and battering into submission any lingering doubts from the slow movement. There were notably attractive contributions from the horn duet, who played the first movement theme with attractive legato at its first appearance and then, strikingly, at pianissimo and with immaculately crisp articulation second time around. Occasionally there were moments when the piano might have accompanied rather than dominated, but for the most part Manze’s balancing of his slightly reduced orchestra was very attentive, producing a clear, focussed sound right from the punchy opening chords.

With such a dramatic approach to the Beethoven, one might have expected that Manze’s Bruckner would be even more stark. Playing the 1889 edition (complete with all three cymbal crashes), the symphony was played like Brahms, with an unerring attention to beauty of sound favoured over sudden fortissimo outbursts. The opening horn solo was immaculately played at a daringly soft dynamic, setting the tone for a performance characterised by a gentle hand on the brass throttle, though never at the expense of grandeur when called for. The music was allowed to breathe, with airy spaces between notes and the birdsong elements fully embraced. Details of the music were closely sculpted throughout the symphony, each phrase shaped with beauty of sound in mind, but at its steady pace it never felt over-mannered or becalmed.

The slow movement was the most Brahmsian of the piece, its soft, moonlit tread recalling Brahms’ symphony of the same number. The ascent to the movement’s climax was long, slow and richly rewarded. After the night-time vista of the Adagio, the Scherzo was as fresh as a cool morning in its horn calls and woodwind solos. The finale was another slow burner, pausing to admire many attractive individual moments on the way to a suitably grand conclusion. The brass were always kept to an aesthetically pleasingly dynamic, never over-blowing and always focussed on details of phrasing and beauty of sound. I am not aware of Andrew Manze having recorded any Bruckner, but based on this performance of the Romantic, he has a great deal to say.

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