Judging by this opening concert in his first season as Chief Conductor of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, Domingo Hindoyan has a bright future in Liverpool. Here he paired the world premiere of Roberto Sierra’s Symphony no. 6 with that staple of special occasions, Beethoven’s Ninth.

Domingo Hindoyan and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Choir and Orchestra
© Mark McNulty

Co-commissioned with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the National Polish Radio Symphony Orchestra, Sierra’s new symphony has its groundings in Beethoven. As his sixth symphony, and knowing it would be premiered alongside Beethoven 9, Sierra impishly titles the symphony his “Pastoral”. In contrast to Beethoven’s Pastoral, though, the new work is a warts-and-all set of scenes from the composer’s upbringing in Puerto Rico, with its four moments titled Urban Memory, At Night, Hurricane and Finale.

The symphony burst into life with an explosion of percussion, setting the tone for the next 25 minutes. The RLPO percussionists responded with a virtuosic display of pyrotechnics including four-mallet marimbas and timpani flourishes. Muted trumpets accompanied the fireworks to evoke vividly a breathless dash across town. The nocturnal stillness of the slow movement was punctuated by sounds of the jungle before some violent hurricane effects for the third. In the finale, Hindoyan and his players relished every corner of the smoky, sultry melodies and rhythms. Far from being a sentimental trip down nostalgia avenue, this was a vivid and thrilling snapshot of Puerto Rico which will demand to be heard again.

The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Choir and Orchestra
© Mark McNulty

The Ode to Joy is one of those pieces which for much of the last two years has felt like an impossibility. Hindoyan’s solution here was to offer up a slimline chorus, billed as ‘Members from the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Choir’, and keep a tight grip on dynamics and expression within the orchestral playing. This was evident from the outset of the first movement, which was taut, sinewy and muscular. Much aided by a hard, dry timpani sound and crisp brass articulation, Hindoyan retained a sense of tightly-coiled energy. With no score in front of him, he drove the music onwards with unrelenting drama and ultimately, in the coda, a wonderful sense of grim inevitability.

The Scherzo ripped along with raging vigour, ensemble rarely wavering, and with extra punch courtesy of bass trombone reinforcing the double basses. The slow movement, some occasional nerves and audience commotion aside, was refreshingly redemptive.

I was curious to hear how the 60 or so choristers would fare against the large orchestra in front of them for the finale. I needn’t have worried, as the Cherub stood “vor Gott” as vociferously as any I’ve heard. The men of the chorus, few in number but heroic in effort, deserve special mention for the energy with which they sang, from a rowdy Turkish march to huge “Seid umschlungen”. Of the soloists, bass Tareq Nazmi and tenor Andrew Staples were the highlights, the former singing his opening recitative with uncommonly imploring persuasion and a rich sound in the lower register. Strangely, the only moments of rocky balance came when the soloists sang together. Any stumble was swiftly put aside, though, as Hindoyan charged the final pages with all the force of the Puerto Rican hurricane we had heard earlier. Here’s hoping the young Venezuelan’s reign will be as fruitful as his predecessor's. 

****1