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Review: Domingo Hindoyan and Víkingur Ólafsson at Philharmonic Hall ****1/2

It was supposed to be the return to the Liverpool stage of Daniel Barenboim after a 50-year absence, in a performance conducted by the maestro he mentored.

Barenboim’s announcement last autumn that he was suffering from a neurological condition and would be reining back on his engagements cast uncertainty over the Philharmonic date, although it was hoped with Domingo Hindoyan at the helm, he would do his best to make it.

Sadly for the sell-out audience, it wasn’t to be.

Still, every cloud has a silver lining, and in this case it that lining came in the form of Icelandic superstar pianist Víkingur Ólafsson, stepping into the breach and finally making his Phil debut after (apparently) two abortive attempts during the pandemic.

Ólafsson certainly seems to have enjoyed his first Liverpool experience, having his photo being taken with the Beatles on the waterfront, and here in Hope Street striking up what appears to be a warm and genuine rapport with both the orchestra and Hindoyan.

Robert Schumann was one of the composers Ólafsson was introduced to by his musician parents, and he would practice his works on an upright piano in his bedroom at home in Iceland.

He chose the Piano Concerto in A minor for his Edinburgh International Festival debut last summer, and it’s an interesting choice because I suspect its unshowy but deceptively complex structure reflects something of Ólafsson’s approach too.

Folding his tall frame between Steinway and stool, he delivered a sensitive and sinuous performance, with quiet attention to a detail and some really lovely phrasing.

There was a powerful introduction of the piano line and virtuosic cadenza to the opening allegro, but also a gossamer-light touch where it was required, not least in the delicate intermezzo.

Hindoyan kept the orchestra soft and creamily smooth in support, with enticing singing melodies woven through the woodwind and, elsewhere, bright orchestral flourishes which evidently swept Ólafsson away too.

There was also time for an encore where the pianist introduced his first love, Bach, with an elegant and moving arrangement of an organ sonata adagio.

The concerto was bookended by Lutosławski’s Little Suite and Tchaikovsky’s Fourth Symphony.

The former’s four sections were inspired by traditional Polish folk melodies including a dramatic polka, although in the opening ‘Fife’, Sameeta Gahir’s perky piccolo could just have easily been leading the 40th Foot into battle at Waterloo.

Folk music also makes an appearance in Tchaikovsky’s symphony, through a song called In the Field a Birch Tree Stood which appears in the final movement.

But it was another ‘f’ word that the composer himself used when asked to describe the work, and that was ‘fate’ – an idea introduced in the first movement by its persuasive horn motif.

Hindoyan created a compelling and colourful musical narrative from the andante’s punchy brass fanfare and joyous forte moments to a triumphant, full throttle finale, via a gorgeous melody introduced by clarinet and rippled through the wind section, to an impressively textured andantino second movement and the ebb and flow of an equally impressive, irresistible pulsing pizzicato scherzo.

Photo: Víkingur Ólafsson by Ari Magg.


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