Review: Bruckner's Eighth Symphony at Philharmonic Hall *****


When other teenagers were listening to pop music in their bedrooms, Liverpool’s future chief conductor Domingo Hindoyan had Bruckner’s Eighth Symphony cranked up to 11.

And that long association with, and knowledge of, the monumental masterpiece shone through in this remarkable performance at the Philharmonic Hall.

The sustained standing ovation from the audience is perhaps the most succinct review of an evening which offered both real nuance and thrilling drama from both Hindoyan and the augmented orchestra.

It’s all too easy to see Bruckner’s 80-minute work, with its four huge movements, as one overwhelming sturm und drang whole. But while it is monumental, and it’s often described as apocalyptic or being like a ‘cathedral’ of sound, its structure also contains a myriad of exquisite little musical details.

Hindoyan and the orchestra pitched it perfectly, the music ebbing and flowing, advancing and retreating, and with some delightfully sensitive moments where those details were picked out with clarity by individual instruments or sections of the beefed-up Phil.

Thus, the opening movement, with its slow awakening rising to fortissimo waves of sound, soulful melody through the strings and desolate fading final bars, was punctuated by Rainer Gibbons’ solo oboe, a lone horn call from Tim Jackson, and muted flute.

And the scherzo, with its persistent five-note theme, brought with it a sweetly shimmering sunburst from the trio of harps along with a triumphant crescendo finale.

Bruckner’s adagio runs to nearly 30 minutes, and Hindoyan exercised lovely control throughout, building the movement’s rich, radiant sound layer by layer towards a pinnacle signalled by a pair of cymbal clashes, all the while carefully conserving the orchestra’s energy.

It meant the Phil still had plenty in the tank to sweep into the final movement, with its brass fanfare and stabbing strings punctuated by both kettle drums and the quiet birdsong of flute and clarinet before the band thundered – amid trumpets and timps – towards the radiant finale, not in the symphony’s home key of C minor but in pure and positive C major.

Superlative stuff.

It’s worth noting too - one physical change which has been noticeable since Liverpool’s new chief conductor arrived five months ago has been the varying layout of the orchestra.

The configuration got even more interesting last night, with Robin Haggart’s tuba taking centre stage, with trombones to one side and a quartet of glisteningly tactile Wagner tubas to the other, and the first and second violins split in stereo fashion on each flank of the strings to give their differing roles within the work more aural delineation.