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Review: Dream Team at Philharmonic Hall ****1/2

All eyes are on Liverpool this week, with the joyful Eurovision juggernaut reaching a crazy, camp, celebratory climax tomorrow night down at the city’s world-famous waterfront.

But it’s not only the contestants in the arena and the song contest fans who have descended on Liverpool who are ‘United by Music’.

A glance across the Philharmonic Hall stage last night would have found a league of nations (Spain, Estonia and Ireland among them) playing a programme that married French, Russian and Venezuelan influences into one enjoyably exuberant performance.

Speaking at the new season launch this week, chief executive Michael Eakin explained the Phil’s ethos as: “To excite, to challenge, to move and above all, to entertain you.”

Domingo Hindoyan, artist in residence Pacho Flores and the orchestra certainly did that in an evening of musical fireworks, singing melodies and some nifty maracas action.

The original programme included a concertino from Andre Jolivet. But when you’ve got the chance to bring your audience a world premiere, you’re going to take it.

Thus Flores, in the second of three outings with the orchestra this season, paired Henri Tomasi’s Concerto for Trumpet and Orchestra with his own new work Albares – a Concerto for Flugelhorn.

Tomasi wrote his concerto in 1948, and its first and third movements have an irresistible bustling sound that evokes images of Gene Kelly ‘on the town’ in New York or Paris.

Flores played with lovely, glistening clarity over the lush orchestral swell of an opening allegro which also included a cadenza with drum roll, while his mysterious, muted trumpet floated above shimmering harp and percussion in the opening bars of a heart-bursting nocturne ahead of the concerto's swaggering finale.

Above: Domingo Hindoyan. Top: Pacho Flores. Photo by Mark McNulty

The irrepressible Flores always arrives on the Hope Street stage with an armful of instruments.

And his Albares came with not one but three flugelhorns, one for each of the movements - named after regions in Spain where he now lives; Bambuco (a Columbian folk dance in 3/4 or 6/8 time) en Valencia; Milonga en Mislata, and lastly Periquera (apparently a sub-genre of the Venezuelan Joropo) en Navajas.

While each movement was distinctive, what they share is an expansive range of textures and rhythms, punchy and crisply punctuated orchestration, and – soaring above it all - Flores’ mellow and mesmerising flugelhorn.

The Bambuco’s unexpectedly pensive woodwind opening gave way to Spanish rhythms through the percussion and brass, while a duelling duet between flugelhorn and bass clarinet was followed by a finale full of rumbling drama.

There was more textured percussion in the Milonga, the movement introduced by almost mournful cello and viola, while the Periquera brought with it creamy playing from the brass section, a sinuous solo from Flores, a delightful singing melody from Ian Buckle on piano, Graham Johns shimmying across the stage shaking his maracas, and a cheeky cadenza. Followed by what was a well deserved standing ovation.

The central concertos were sympathetically paired with Berlioz’s vivacious Roman Carnival caper, and Rachmaninov’s invigorating Third Symphony which was delivered with pace, precision and panache by Hindoyan and the Phil.

If you were foolish enough to miss it, there's one final chance to catch Flores on July 8 when he reunites with orchestra and conductor for a promised Fiesta.


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