Sir Andrew Davis conducted the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic in a programme of Mozart and Bruckner which found glimpses of enormous profundity in the slow movement of each work. American/Korean violinist Esther Yoo, a BBC New Generation Artist and erstwhile Sibelius competition winner, made her debut appearance with the orchestra in the last of Mozart’s flurry of five violin concertos. All five were written from April to Christmas 1775, and yet the last of them, the Turkish, shows a remarkable departure from accepted form in its capricious turns and peculiar structure.

Sir Andrew Davis © Lucas Dawson
Sir Andrew Davis
© Lucas Dawson

Davis, now conductor emeritus of the RLPO, indulged all the works’ idiosyncrasies with subtlety and a gentle hand in balancing the much-reduced orchestra to the solo line. Similarly, Esther Yoo played with great musical sensitivity both to the work and the accompanying orchestra. After a few patches of errant intonation in the first movement she settled into a more natural sound, interacting effectively with the orchestra to give a performance of great humour and charm. The finale’s vigorous Hungarian dance (the Turkish title represents an unfortunate error of geography) came off with fizzing energy, before slipping nonchalantly back into the stately minuet to finish the work.

It took Anton Bruckner as many years to write three quarters of his Ninth Symphony as it took months for Mozart to write five violin concertos. Davis treated it with all the weight and gravitas this great work demands, setting the giant paragraphs of the symphony, as if carved in stone, into perfect proportion. The opening minutes were drawn into a long thread of tension, spun over the horn and trumpet calls, before the first fortissimo. The second theme bloomed with a gloriously thick, warm string texture as the music resolved into the major key. By contrast, the later quieter passages created a compelling sense of hushed reverie, with the sense of great mystery and wonder perhaps intended by the composer in his dedication of the work dem lieben Gott. Davis, in general, was flexible with tempi, allowing a natural ebb and flow to give the movement a clear sense of architecture. A few changes in pace were not quite followed by all on stage, and one or two scrappy entrances crept in later in the movement before it ended in a blaze of glory.

The scherzo, despite its repeatedly hammered string rhythm, was relatively light on its feet, keeping the central trio in sight at all times. There was certainly no shortage of intensity in the repeated down bows flying around the string section, but Davis kept the sound crisp and focussed. The trio itself was breezy and fresh, with a strong sense of nature in the woodwind birdcalls, particularly in the characterful articulation of the flutes.

The Adagio found a more refined, burnished sound in the brass, who in the first movement had tended towards a more direct, brassy sound. Here instead was something more reflective of a sunset, with the bass section providing the foundations for beautifully rich sounds from the strings. Davis, who conducted all night without a baton, directed in broad, sweeping minims, steadily driving the music onwards in a noble procession, with the Wagner tuba and horn quartets providing beautiful colours with which to close the symphony.