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Review: The New World at Philharmonic Hall ****1/2

Sacred music, nursery rhymes, a brave new world – and a generously populated Philharmonic Hall enjoying it all.

Who needs the World Cup?

Domingo Hindoyan has not – so far at least – explored the rich landscape of the English repertoire (his tastes lie mainly across the Channel), but with the Phil celebrating the 150th anniversary of Vaughan Williams’ birth, what better way to open a Sunday concert than with the composer’s magical Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis.

Vaughan Williams created a complicated intertwining of quartet, nine-strong chamber group and larger orchestra all joining and dividing through the shifting sands of continual time changes in this 20th century homage to 16th century antiphony.

Hindoyan crafted an beautiful expansive line through the changing dynamics, although I’d have liked a little more shimmering poetic mysticism in the opening section.

The mystical was paired with the mischievous in the form of Erno Dohnányi’s Variations on a Nursery Song, played with brio by young artist in residence Isata Kanneh-Mason, visually sparkling too in a Sunday afternoon uniform of green sequined jumpsuit.

Dohnányi may be executing a musical jest with his dramatic orchestral pronouncements being answered by five-year-old Mozart (prompting a ripple of laughter in the hall), but it’s also an intricate one.

Kanneh-Mason, evidently greatly enjoying herself, brought a clean lightness of touch and sweetness of tone to the shifting variations on Twinkle Twinkle – at one point more tinkle tinkle in a gorgeous duet with harp that evoked the chimes of a musical jewelry box (you could almost see the turning ballerina).

Among its 11 variations was a delightfully giddy waltz, and hints of Tchaikovsky, Debussy and luscious Rachmaninov-style phrasing.

Every chief conductor has their own particular musical passions and stamps their own style on an orchestra to one extent or another.

Above: Domingo Hindoyan. Photo by Brian Roberts. Top: Isata Kanneh-Mason. Photo by John Davis

Hindoyan brings French, German and Latin American repertoire to the party. Vasily Petrenko created what was billed as ‘the best Russian orchestra outside Russia’. And before both of them, Libor Pešek turned the RLPO into ‘the best Czech orchestra west of Prague’.

The Czech conductor, who died last month, was remembered with an addition to the programme – a warmly-played Dvořák’s Slavonic Dance no 2 in E minor.

But in fact, despite the season being decided long before his death, the whole second half was something of a tribute – if an unexpected one - to him, with the Slavonic Dance a starter and Dvořák’s Symphony No 9, From The New World, the main course.

Hindoyan, eschewing a score (just as he did for Beethoven’s Ninth last autumn), drove the opening movement with punch and lots of pace, while there was good clarity to harmonic progressions in the largo – along with a luxuriant performance of its famous theme from David Hasler on cor anglais.

The molto vivace third movement had a rushing, spirited core, and the finale – heralded by brass and with Hindoyan making wide sweeping gestures to the violas and basses, brought Dvořák’s cyclical symphony to a delightfully satisfying conclusion.


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