Striking out ahead of its regional neighbours, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic reopened this month with a series of fascinating slimline programmes. Undeterred by a raft of Tier 3 Coronavirus restrictions in the city this week, the series continued with this hour-long set of delights by Rossini, Stravinsky and Beethoven conducted by Joshua Weilerstein.

Joshua Weilerstein and Boris Giltburg
© Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra

The highlight of the evening, held up in all its glory as the would be second-half main event even in the absence of any interval, was Beethoven’s G major piano concerto. From its softly murmured opening, almost tentative in its four-note motto, there was an inescapable sense of development as the music grew in stature and strength, ultimately bringing to mind the four-note motif of the Fifth Symphony. In the slow movement, Boris Giltburg played with exquisite delicacy and airiness, while the orchestra responded sensitively, the music ultimately dissolving into silence. The finale, by contrast, erupted from light chirrups into a punchy, noisy affair, punctuated by dry timpani strokes and a powerful cadenza. Weilerstein thrusted his way through the last pages with uncompromising drama.

Boris Giltburg
© Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra

Having heard no live music since this orchestra’s Mahler 2 earlier this year, to me even the frenetic opening notes of Rossini’s Silken Ladder overture were stirringly beautiful. With the pared-down orchestra of winds and just 20 strings spread over just as much stage as triple their number had been for the Mahler, one might have worried about ensemble for Rossini’s delicate scoring, but Weilerstein’s clear direction and some astute chamber sensibility helped head off any potential wobbles. Meanwhile the brilliance of individual solos was cleanly spot-lit, most memorably some breath-taking oboe acrobatics.

Enthusiastically introduced by Weilerstein, Stravinsky’s neo-baroque Pulcinella suite continued in a similarly entertaining vein, its crisply irreverent music realised with straight-faced humour. Alongside elegant contributions from the front four strings, fireworks were provided by rasping trombone interjections and some cleanly negotiated trumpet intricacies. It was a shrewd manoeuvre to insert this neglected gem between Rossini and Beethoven, making for an uncommonly rewarding programme which felt far more substantial than its sixty minutes would have suggested.