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Review: Waltz Time at Philharmonic Hall ****

They had, in chief executive Michael Eakin’s words, a ‘dress rehearsal’ at the BBC Proms last weekend.

But grand though the Royal Albert Hall is, and special though the Proms are, neither packs the emotional punch of playing in front of – and for – a home audience.

The Phil has worked hard to keep music going during the pandemic, albeit in socially distanced fashion on stage and off.

Now, with the full orchestra back for the first time in 18 months, even the pre-concert tuning up had a lovely deep, augmented symphonic sound to it.

So, new season, new Covid-safe rules (capacity seating but Covid passports at the door and masks still in evidence on many faces) and, of course, a new conductor in the form of Venezuelan maestro Domingo Hindoyan.

The observant would have noticed no National Anthem though.

Still, there was plenty going on in the main programme which announced a return of business as usual in a riot of big tunes, crazy rhythms and sunny exuberance.

At the heart of the evening was Clara Schumann’s piano concerto, composed when she was only 15 and still the child prodigy Clara Wieck, part of the season’s celebration of female music makers – and, aptly, performed by another bright young star in Isata Kanneh-Mason.

Above: Isata Kanneh-Mason. Top: Domingo Hindoyan with a full-strength Royal Liverpool Philharmonic. Photos by Brian Roberts

Kanneh-Mason’s planned tenure as young artist in residence during 2020/21 has been extended into the new season which is good news for Liverpool audiences.

The eldest of the endlessly talented musical siblings recorded the piano concerto with the RLPO as part of her debut album Romance, a celebration of Clara’s music.

Here in the hall, rather than the Friary recording studio, she swept through its physically demanding virtuosic allegro solo passages with real power, while bringing a lovely warm, sensitive tone and texture to the central Romanze duet with Jonathan Aasgaard’s expressive cello.

Hindoyan kept the full force of the orchestra carefully tempered through the andante but let it loose in the energetic allegro finale, gathering up big melodies as it rolled on in satisfying counterpoint to Kanneh-Mason’s energetic piano.

Earlier the evening announced itself with a pair of punchy waltzes from Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier.

The first was a voluptuous limb loosener with a sweet clarinet melody from Nick Carpenter, a blazing, colourful finale, and plenty of swirling animation from a smiling Hindoyan (we have another dancer on the box, although I don’t recall Petrenko ever attempting the snap from ‘bend and snap’ or a move that could be described as ‘kung-fu ooo’), while the second, suffused with woodwind, was lighter on its feet albeit with a heart-thumping final flourish.

Domingo Hindoyan. Photo by Brian Roberts

The heart-thumping flourishes continued after the interval in an atmospheric reading of the second suite of Falla’s Three-Cornered Hat.

The central melody of its Neighbours’ seguidillas was spun out nicely through woodwind, celeste and French horn, while Hindoyan ramped up the drama in an earthy farruca and carried it through into a furiously pulsing, jubilant jota finale.

Grandos’ Intermezzo, complete with appealing cello and violin theme over plucked violas and basses, proved a palate cleanser before Ravel’s disquieting, giddy La Valse completed the evening.

Although not content to stop there, Hindoyan threw in a nod to last spring’s Sound the Trumpet concert with a dynamic encore snippet of Arturo Marquez’s Concierto de otono.

This season opener featured a partial reorganisation of section seating, with the violas to the conductor’s right, harps shifted further into the main body of the orchestra and timpani moving far left – the latter of which frustratingly unbalanced some of the overall sound, for this listener on that side of the hall at least.

Whether it was a one off, or Hindoyan’s preferred configuration, remains to be seen.


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