Since taking the helm in at the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, Domingo Hindoyan has brought a refreshing variety of familiar and unfamiliar French orchestral treasures to the city. This bill brought together two highly evocative key works of Debussy, the Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune and La Mer. Beginning with Faune, the beautiful tone from principal flautist Cormac Henry filled Philharmonic Hall. What can be gently seductive can, with nuanced phrasing, become utterly spellbinding and intoxicating, pulling one immediately into an intense and sultry world, but this was not quite executed fully on this occasion as the musical shaping was too even. As the tone poem evolved, Hindoyan’s approach to phrasing became obvious, aiming for something more mysterious and ambiguous; however, this felt altogether too cool and aloof for this suggestively sinful piece. 

Domingo Hindoyan
© Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra

After a brief stage reset, increasing the cello section to 12 (equalling the second violins), came Debussy’s three orchestral sketches depicting the sea. From the outset of From Dawn to Midday on the Sea the string colours were much richer, warmer and acquiring a dimension that had been missing in Faune. The gentle opening passages seemed to begin where the Prélude had left off. Hindoyan was more animated and communicative, even in the softer passages, getting much more from his orchestra. The brass articulation was not as clear as it could have been, but it did not detract from the refinement of the sound in the climactic moments. 

In Play of the Waves the sense of perspective Hindoyan was trying to emulate became clear, especially with the balance of percussion — attempting to create a 3D musical image in the mind’s eye. Sadly, the overly subtle percussion was almost inaudible at times. The Dialogue of the Wind and the Sea was full of colour, but lacked the darker intense hues to make this moderate-to-rough rendition a gale force performance. One could not fault the quality of the orchestral playing and the balance of woodwinds and strings especially, which was highly commendable, made for a pleasing rendition overall. 

After the lustful Faune that opened the concert, redemption was at hand in the second half. A smaller orchestral formation was deployed for Puccini’s early Messa di Gloria. Whilst the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Choir appeared modest in number for a symphony chorus, they delivered quite the punch. Taking the rein was guest chorus master Ellie Slorach who had obviously trained the choir well. Their diction throughout was mostly excellent, with just occasional lapses in the contrapuntal sections of the Gloria and at moments in the Credo. Their clarity of consonants otherwise was clean, clear and precise. 

The choral blend was mostly pleasing, with a sympathetic balance between sopranos and basses, with some gentle projection from the tenors, especially in the Kyrie; it was disappointing that the altos became lost, and were often overpowered, in the choral textures. Coming in at over 40 minutes, the work is an enduring sing for the choir, but their energy was unflagging. 

Tenor Jesús León and bass Adam Kutny executed their solos beautifully, two very different voices which, when they finally came together in the Agnus Dei, were matched perfectly, León’s purer timbre contrasting over Kutny’s robust and heavier vibrato. It is not Puccini’s finest work for sure, but in Hindoyan’s this performance was worthy and highly enjoyable.