On a chilly January evening, Domingo Hindoyan, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra’s new principal conductor, looked south for inspiration in a programme of four French works, mixing the ever popular Ravel G major concerto with Debussy’s Jeux and seldom performed pieces by Messiaen and Roussel.

Domingo Hindoyan conducts the RLPO
© Mark McNulty

Written in 1930, Messiaen’s Les Offrandes oubilées opened with an elevating rendition. Composed in three continuous sections, Hindoyan offered clear visions, almost like peering through stained glass windows. In the opening The Cross, Hindoyan balanced the strings and woodwind with utter perfection, allowing luminous and luscious strings to radiate over the woodwind chords, underpinning the delicate textures in Messiaen’s score. The darker central section The Sin, brimmed with contrast, crisp articulation and a strong emphasis on rhythmic clarity, Hindoyan’s vision came clearly to life.  Concluding with The Eucharist, this was breathlessly transcendental. Making the most of the silences and hushed violins and violas, a reverence and spirituality descended in Philharmonic Hall, the final bars seeming to elevate to another mystical plain. 

Joining the orchestra, Jean-Efflam Bavouzet played one of his trademark pieces, Ravel’s G major concerto. Played on a Yamaha concert grand, the tone was characteristically different from a Steinway, the timbre suiting Bavouzet who knew how to make the most of its more brittle tones, especially in lower and mid registers. The first movement was less rigid than some of Bavouzet’s previous performances, finding a greater sophistication and eloquence. A simplicity in the slow second movement brought a delicate and uncomplicated air. In the more cantabile passages, Bavouzet’s right hand often preceded the left, which became an idiosyncrasy throughout. Setting off with a slight uncertainty between conductor and pianist, the strong chemistry which had bound them so far was slightly shaky here, resulting in a slightly anxious beginning to the third movement. Once settled, the excitement built into some rather exhilarating, rounding off the work with panache.  Bavouzet returned to platform to give an unexpected and unusual encore, Ondine from Gaspard de la nuit. The technical challenges appeared effortless as Bavouzet excelled in creating the watery scene which was a real treat.

After the interval, Debussy’s Jeux fell disappointingly flat. Hindoyan’s interpretation was rather sadly monochromatic, watery and rather aloof. He was not as expressively insightful here as in the Messiaen, or in the final work.  Towards the end, he brought a wash of colour, which enlivened the performance somewhat, but this difficult to programme work was the proverbial sore thumb of the night. 

Like a breathe of fresh air, Roussel’s First Suite from Bacchus et Ariane brought the invigoration needed, bringing the programme almost full circle as this work is from 1931, contemporary with the Messiaen. Hindoyan wore his heart on his sleeve here, with vision, vibrancy and vitality brimming in the faster sections, the storytelling was strongly depicted, whilst there was a lyricism in the more delicate passages. The orchestral was well balanced, and credit to Hindoyan for doing so with such sensitivity and refinement. 

Reservations asides, this was on balance an evening of wonderful music making, a highlight being the surprise encore in the hands of a true master of French music. Bravo, Bavouzet!