This well-conceived programme placed a thoughtfully crafted account of Carl Nielsen’s life-affirming Fourth Symphony alongside a sparkling performance of Mozart’s Piano Concerto no. 20 in D minor and the world premiere of Edmund Finnis’ Acts of Waves.

Domingo Hindoyan
© RLPO

Domingo Hindoyan’s first season as Chief Conductor of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra has been characterised by grand symphonies, a label to which Nielsen’s Inextinguishable, with its duelling timpani and surging ‘big tune’, could easily lay claim. There was no shortage of bravura here, but Hindoyan’s measured approach allowed the symphony to breathe organically, its many episodes and idiosyncrasies perfectly contextualised. When called upon, the heavy brass and middle strings played with unwavering vigour, the violas putting in as especially hard shift to the conductor’s right. Their rich sound in the third movement, punctuated by cleanly-fired timpani and pizzicato gunshots, was in stark contrast to the furious scrubbing given to the searing ascendancy to the finale. The wind solos came with great character throughout, notably from clarinets and bassoons in the opening and second movements respectively. Even in its cooler moments, the finale seemed to carry immense momentum. The intricacies of the string and woodwind writing were crisply realised without getting bogged down, and the cross-stage duelling timpani carried the symphony into its heady coda with gusto, capping a pleasingly thoughtful rather than bombastic Inextinguishable.

The first half of the evening began with the world premiere of British composer Edmund Finnis’ Acts of Waves, a co-commission with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. The work received almost no introduction in the online programme notes or pre-concert talk, though its oceanic sound world required little explanation. Finnis effectively captured his wave imagery through string writing which, though constantly undulating, also carried a sense of stillness. Unusual percussive effects – double tam-tams, softly-struck tubular bells and a thunder sheet – added colour to the portrait. It was an attractive and very well-received concert opener, though perhaps at 15 minutes in length it might have gone through some further musical development.

American pianist Kit Armstrong was soloist for Mozart’s Piano Concerto no. 20. With a slimmed-down string section playing with punchy articulation and almost no vibrato, the sound was terse and dry from the outset. Armstrong played with elegant lightness of touch while still capturing all the dark D-minor hues of the first movement, culminating in a dramatic cadenza. The steady, tranquil tread of the slow movement was a sharp contrast, before the rondo finale exploded off the page at a dizzying tempo. This proved challenging for the accompaniment to sustain, though Armstrong’s entries came with renewed vigour at each opportunity. Despite the high-octane energy of his playing there was careful attention to sensitive accompaniment of the woodwind themes where appropriate, and the last pages danced their way to a joyous conclusion. An uncommonly interesting encore came in the form of 16th-century English composer John Bull’s Fantasia in D major which, like the Mozart, was deceptively simple until its latter fireworks.

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