It was something of a shock to see – and hear – a full-sized orchestra on the platform of the Philharmonic Hall last night. Liverpool audiences have become accustomed to smaller-scale pieces and social distancing, both on stage and in the auditorium, but this was a new beginning. It was the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra’s first concert in Liverpool with their new Chief Conductor, Domingo Hindoyan, and a large audience had turned out to welcome him. Appropriately, given the ending of restrictions, most of this programme required a large orchestra – several percussionists, two harps, a full complement of brass and woodwind and what looked like hundreds of strings.

Domingo Hindoyan and the RLPO
© RLPO

The concert started and ended with evocations of the waltz from the first decades of the 20th century. First came the two Waltz Sequences which Richard Strauss extracted from Der Rosenkavalier, his hugely successful opera set in 18th-century Vienna in which the action is often underpinned by gorgeous waltzes. The advantage of hearing them in a purely orchestral concert setting is that we got to hear details that are rarely noticeable in the theatre. The fine acoustics of the hall helped and we were soon being swept along in this sumptuous opening to the season.

A smaller orchestra was joined by the RLPO’s Young Artist in Residence, Isata Kanneh-Mason, for Clara Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A minor. Probably like most of the audience, I was hearing this for the first time. It was completed in 1835 just before the composer’s 16th birthday and is an amazingly accomplished work for a teenager – or anyone. The concerto is characterised by lyrical melodic invention but with dramatic and virtuosic moments too. Kanneh-Mason’s expressive playing made this a joy to listen to, not least in the remarkable second movement Romanze. This was an extended, poetic piano solo joined by the orchestra's principal cello, Jonathan Aasgaard, creating a moment of chamber music. A striking timpani roll changed the mood and led us back to the world of the dance for the spirited third movement.

Isata Kanneh-Mason and the RLPO
© RLPO

The second half of the concert brought us back to a big orchestra and more dance, the second suite from Manuel de Falla’s The Three-Cornered Hat. This presents three excerpts from the ballet including the exuberant finale and are imbued with Spanish sunshine. Hindoyan evidently revelled in its changing rhythms and dynamics and, as with the Strauss, brought out many telling details from the soloists of the orchestra. The Intermezzo from Granados’s Goyescas that followed provided some respite from the frenetic activity of the Falla despite its turbulent central section.

And then we returned to the waltz, this time seen from a French perspective. Ravel’s La Valse was intended as a ballet for Diaghilev, who famously commented that it was “not a ballet but a portrait of a ballet”. The composer denied that it was a reflection of the collapse of the Austrian Empire but it could easily be interpreted as such. From its growling beginning to its conclusion, in which everything seems to be collapsing in on itself, there is something deeply disturbing about this masterpiece, despite the waltz tunes that run through it. Conductor and orchestra brought out the tension that infuses the work, the light and dark and Ravel’s surprising orchestral colours.

Hindoyan gave us a substantial encore from his native Latin America: Arturo Márquez’s Danzón no. 2. Here, as throughout this joyful concert, the rapport between orchestra and conductor was evident, which bodes well for a successful relationship and a future of first-class music-making in Liverpool.

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