Review: Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Brass and Percussion, Leeds Town Hall, Saturday 9th October 2021

HEROIC battles, witchcraft and the Arabian Nights brought to life by Russian masters of musical storytelling and heard as we have never heard them before.

Conductor Steven Verhaert has created brilliant arrangements of orchestral showpieces by Mussorgsky, Shostakovich and Rimsky-Korsakov for the virtuoso brass and percussion sections of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. Fifteen brass players and three percussionists were assembled on the stage of Leeds Town Hall for an entertaining hour-long programme given without an interval.

A Night on a Bare Mountain is Mussorgsky’s spooky orchestral depiction of a witches sabbath. Verhaert’s transcription for French horns, trumpets, trombones, tubas, and an array of percussive effects was so rich in atmospheric detail that I completely forgot the absence of strings and woodwind.

Rimsky’s own most famous orchestral showpiece is his symphonic poem Scherezade. Steven Verhaert and his virtuoso soloists gave a gleaming performance of the sweetly romantic movement titled The Young Prince and Princess.

The vaudeville strand of Dmitri Shostakovich’s output feels a world away from the relentless emotional force of his epic symphonies. Jazz Suite No 1 comes from the 1920s Euro-jazz background of Kurt Weill or Erwin Schulhoff, but is still unmistakably Shostakovich. Verhaert’s scintillating arrangement of four movements from Shostakovich’s score for the 1955 film The Gadfly showed the great Soviet composer at his most beguiling. The Romanze movement is fondly remembered as the theme for the 1980s TV series Reilly, Ace of Spies.

Verhaert and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic’s Brass and Percussion captured the buoyancy, wit and sparkle of these delightful works. A deluge of applause inevitably produced an encore: the famous March from Prokofiev’s opera The Love of Three Oranges.

Geoffrey Mogridge