Review: Musical Landscapes at Philharmonic Hall ****1/2


Coming together to make and listen to live music is the kind of shared experience which reminds us that there’s more that unites than divides us.

And on a dark day for the world, what better way to emphasise that than with a vibrant, uplifting, and colourful programme from composers on both sides of the current divide, played by a multi-national cohort of talented musicians here in a ‘world in one city’?

Composer Grace-Evangeline Mason returns to Hope Street later this season with a world premiere, but here the Phil – with Domingo Hindoyan on baton duty - reprised her The Imagined Forest which received its first performance at last September’s Proms.

Mason has described the work as a ‘fantastical journey’ through a natural space that seems familiar but is also unknown, and both those contradictory flavours came through in vivid fashion in this performance.

Trumpet, harp and a sunrise on strings placed us firmly in a dappled glade while leader Eva Thorarinsdottir’s violin soared on thermals in an exquisite evocation of Vaughan Williams’ lark, joined by viola and cello principals in a trio within the wider work.

So far, so pastorally English – until a sudden dissonance heralded a turbulent, uneasy change which set up a swelling, swirling tug-of-war between gentle nature and unnatural forces, with Thorarinsdottir finally emerging from the storm to reprise a floating violin line, and Mason bringing us full circle with the final, radiant notes bequeathed to harp and lone trumpet.

It was thoughtful programming to pair Imagined Forest with Dukas’s complementary ‘poème danséLa Péri, and with the late addition of a lyrical palette cleanser between them, the busy Thorarinsdottir taking the titular ‘vocal’ role in Rachmaninov’s song Vocalise.

The Phil’s brass section glistened in Dukas’s extended fanfare opening, while later the melody swirled around the stage in a lop-sided dance with Hindoyan swirling his arms like a mad sorcerer at the front.

Rachmaninov first removed himself from Russia after the 1905 Revolution and finally quit his homeland for good in 1917 when the Bolsheviks seized control.

His Second Symphony was composed while he and his family were living in Germany, but it’s full of the same gorgeous and passionate melodies which make his earlier Piano Concerto No 2 so emotionally powerful.

Here Hindoyan guided the orchestra through a powerhouse performance, thrilling and tender in equal measure and beautifully controlled, from the ebb and flow of the opening largo – coaxing every ounce of emotion from the strings and drawing out a blistering performance from the brass, to an allegro brimming with character and creamy lush romanticism.

The adagio third movement was warm and tender, while the orchestra kept fuel in the tank for an ebullient allegro finale – Hindoyan beaming at the front – and a majestic final few bars.

Make music, not war.