After a soggy autumnal Liverpool afternoon, the thought of basking in metaphorical Iberian sunshine was appealing. The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra’s chief conductor Domingo Hindoyan was joined by pianist Javier Perianes in a programme which saw Spain and the wider Mediterranean, chiefly through eyes from across the Pyrenees. 

Domingo Hindoyan
© Dead Pixels

Opening proceedings was the orchestral rarity Escales from French composer Jacques Ibert. Written in 1924, this three movement suite takes much influence from Debussy. The first of three musical postcards, entitled “Rome-Palermo”, takes us on a trip between the two Italian cities. Hindoyan did not make the atmosphere sufficiently convincing, the string textures lacked colour and the flute solo lacked subtlety of phrasing, but as the movement progressed, the colours became pleasingly richer. The second movement, “Tunis-Nefta”, takes to African climes: the snake-charming oboe solo was articulate, mirrored by orchestral textures which were neither sufficiently polished nor earthy. The third and final movement, “Valencia”, returns to Europe and the country where we would spend the rest of the evening. It was aptly paced, but lacked sparkle and energetic chemistry between conductor and orchestra.

Manuel de Falla’s evocative nocturnes for piano and orchestra followed. Nights in The Gardens of Spain seems to be a party piece for Perianes, whose playing of this work was effortless. Flowing from his fingers, the range of pianistic colour was wide and the variety of timbres he commanded was remarkable. The brittle, rhythmic and articulate phrases were just within the bounds of being too harsh, showcasing Perianes’ skill at not pushing the piano too far. These moments were highly evocative throughout, bringing contrast, spirit and much feeling. After three returns to the platform, Perianes didn’t disappoint in his virtuosic and charismatic encore, the Ritual Fire Dance from Falla’s El Amor Brujo

After the interval, the four Iberian-focused pieces felt as if they had been chosen from Ravel’s greatest hits — Rapsodie espagnole, Pavane pour une infante défunte, Alborada del gracioso and Boléro, which attempted to recreate some form of artificially created Spanish symphony, with the serious opening, slow dance movement, quasi-scherzo and rousing crowd pleasing finale. The most successfully executed was  the vivacious Alborada, the Pavane was almost too British and reserved. In Boléro, Hindoyan conducted few notes until the entrance of the second snare. Being so hands off brought a spontaneity, but the start was too loud, making it difficult to pace the gradual increase in dynamics, which had no more space to grow by the time we reached the fifteenth repetition. The players were generally freer and more expressive, with the most memorable solo coming from the tenor saxophone.

In the denser passages of the Ibert and Ravel, Hindoyan brought a richness of sound and colour; in the thinner textures, the same finesse was consistently lacking. Whilst the playing from the RLPO was of the highest order, the balance and the shaping of the phrasing to make a polished and utterly convincing performance was not present. Whilst there were many commendable moments and highly accomplished playing, the musical bonds were not sufficiently strong enough to bring the intensity of rhythm, passion and spirit of Spanish music alive with vibrancy. Coming out in the misty evening, the performances and weather were disappointingly equally matched.