Review: Bolero at Philharmonic Hall ****1/2


Outside it was grey and damp, but inside the Philharmonic Hall’s auditorium there was a chance to bask (or perhaps Basque) in some late summer sunshine, colourfully evoked by this Spanish-infused September programme.

Infused yes, but from the composing pen of only one Spaniard, and two Iberian-inspired Frenchmen.

And it turned out to be one of those Frenchmen who ‘a volé la vedette’ as it were.

The clue perhaps was in the concert’s title, Boléro. And unexpectedly, it’s the performance of Ravel’s 1928 work – perhaps his most famous thanks to THAT ice dance at the Sarajevo Winter Olympics some 38 years ago – which will long stick in the mind.

Stick in the mind not, however, because it inevitably conjures up images of two purple-clad skaters going for gold and a perfect row of 6.0s, but because of a fascinating masterclass in conducting/not conducting from Hindoyan and playing from the Phil which could only come from a position of absolute trust in each other.

Over the course of 15 minutes the latter swirled and coalesced around Graham Johns mesmerising and unwavering snare drum rhythm, deftly building in intensity, player by player, section by section, from the work’s oh-so-quiet opening bars of winding flute to a final fortissimo crescendo of full orchestra.

Out in front meanwhile a smiling Hindoyan stood perfectly still, hands clasped in his lap and baton lowered as the orchestra wove its way through Ravel’s ever-shifting central theme. Occasionally he scratched his beard. Occasionally he nodded in a player’s direction or lifted one hand in a quick, dynamic gesture.

It was only in the final minutes, as the work gathered volume and pace, that the baton was finally raised, and conductor and orchestra together swept towards its eruptive finale.

Ravel himself was rather sniffy about his work (the final one of four of the composer’s pieces in this programme), but surely even he would have enjoyed the impressive musicality of the performance.

Incidentally, Geneva-trained Hindoyan is passionate about French repertoire, and the RLPO’s latest recording – laid down in the spring and being released next week – features works by Debussy, Dukas and some riotous Roussel.

The Thursday night programme opened with Jacques Ibert’s Escales, a summery evocation of the shores of the Mediterranean.

Most people come home from honeymoon with photos and maybe a tan – but Ibert returned from his with the idea for this vibrant musical postcard, sending greetings in turn from Sicily, Tunisia and Valencia.

The first, a shimmer of strings and speculative flute dissolving into a wash of balmy, sweet sound and swirling tarantella-like beat, the second bringing with it the musical hint of far-off caravanserai, with Jonathan Small weaving an extended, sinuous snake charmer oboe line, and lastly a lively fairground fiesta with punchy brass, castanets and a great sweeping crescendo.

Manuel de Falla’s nocturnal concerto Nights in the Gardens of Spain places its listener firmly in the Andalucian heart of the Iberian Peninsula, a place pianist Javier Perianes who was born in southern Spain surely knows well.

Perianes delivered a thoughtful, textured performance at the keyboard in a work where soloist and orchestra feel collaborative rather than competitive, the piano rising from (and occasionally disappearing beneath) the shimmering, scented orchestration in the three distinct ‘garden’ sections.

Falla’s piece is awash with enticing colour but perhaps not many overt virtuosic moments for the soloist, so it was a bonus to hear Perianes let loose alone in a well-deserved encore.

The programme is repeated on Sunday.


Photo: Javier Perianes. Picture by Igor Studio