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Review: Sound the Trumpet at RLPO ****1/2

Sound the trumpet indeed! I think we might have found a contender for most entertaining Philharmonic concert of the year – and it’s only the second week of January.

With this firecracker of a programme, complete with a pair of premieres in a double trumpet voluntary, the Phil has certainly set the bar incredibly high for itself.

And there was an added treat for the Thursday night crowd in the most enjoyable double act at Hope Street since Petrenko and Trpceski, with Venezuelans Pacho Flores and Domingo Hindoyan entertaining the hall with a spot of second half banter that had more than a hint of Eric and Ern about it.

All it needed was Hindoyan to suggest his old El Sistema pal Flores was going to “play all the right notes...just not necessarily in the right order”.

A somewhat unlikely scenario given the trumpeter’s stunning virtuosity, showcased in a pair of performances on either side of the interval that were triumphantly – and gloriously - entertaining and breath-takingly accomplished.

Pacho Flores and Domingo Hindoyan. Photos by Mark McNulty

While both the concerto by Mexican Arturo Marquez (receiving its UK premiere) and the one by Puerto Rican Roberto Sierra (a world premiere no less) were commissioned by Flores as part of his championing of music for the instrument, each is very different in tone and texture.

What they share is the ambitious use of not just one solo instrument; Flores walked on stage laden down (in a brassy double or drop) with trumpets in varying keys, along with a cornet and flugelhorn.

Marquez’s flamboyant Concierto de otono was a riot of luscious melodies, woven through an evocative, Habanera-style first movement of great propulsion and a delightful descending motif, and a percussion-driven ‘balada’ that took its listeners deep in to a late-night, laid back barrio music hall and featured some lovely phrasing from Flores.

He swapped to a trumpet in D for the final movement, a riotous ‘conga de Flores’, that plunged the hall and orchestra – step forward percussionist Graham Johns - ever deeper into the barrio in a helter skelter of fabulousness, an audaciously scored jazz jam that was rewarded with a roar of approval from the audience.

Roberto Sierra takes a bow. Photo by Mark McNulty

Sierra’s Salseando is a very different animal. And while it might not have the crowd-pleasing swagger of Marquez’s work, there was plenty to appreciate within its spare, reflective construction with its hints of Bernstein and a clear musical nod to the sounds of the 50s and 60s.

It again gave Flores the chance to explore the tonal qualities of a number of different instruments, the Phil a crisp collaborator in Sierra’s syncopated phrasing. And a mention, on this busy night in the percussion section, for Scott Lumsdaine’s whip-quick work on conga.

The concerti were bookended by Strauss and Stravinsky, the programming choices giving the impressive Hindoyan (a dashing stage presence in tails shiny locks and a beaming smile) the chance to stamp his presence with two pleasingly nuanced readings – a bold and vivacious Don Juan, and a beautifully controlled Firebird boasting among other delights a particularly gorgeous glissando.

If there was a niggle to be had, it would be what I felt was an occasional sound imbalance between the sections during the Don Juan, and one or two moments of over-amplified excitement from the orchestra in the Marquez - something Hindoyan moved swiftly to dial down.

But they are niggles in what was an impressive, and vastly entertaining, start to 2020.

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