Tuesday, September 26

Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra Season Opening Concert – Liverpool Philharmonic Hall

Domingo Hindoyan’s second season as Chief Conductor started in fine style with a programme of Central European masterpieces, with Janáček’s mighty orchestral Sinfonietta paired with Mahler’s heavenly song-symphony to herald – with trumpets and sleighbells respectively – the musical delights to come, including the Liverpool debut of the brilliant Czech soprano, Kateřina Kněžíková.

Leoš Janáček (1854-1928) composed his Sinfonietta in 1926 with its first performance on 26th June of that year in Prague. A passionate and deeply patriotic Czech, he was thrilled when his homeland achieved independence at the end of World War I and dedicated the piece to the new Czech Army in celebration of ‘contemporary free man, his spiritual beauty and joy, his strength, courage, and determination to fight for victory.’

All five movements have subtitles that relate to his hometown of Brno, although his description of it at the time as ‘a nice little Sinfonietta with fanfares’ seems to have been a kind of joke as it certainly isn’t little and it’s a whole lot more than just ‘nice’: just imagine a giant orchestra and a row of nine trumpeters as well as bass trumpets and tenor tubas all blazing away and that’s just the start of it!

Janáček reportedly said that ‘music isn’t about notes, it’s about life, blood and nature’, and although the opening trumpet fanfare was a little wavy to begin with, we were ultimately served up a full gamut of emotions from its quietest, tenderest moments to the colossal, massed song of its final pages. This is a piece rich in drama and intensity and the orchestra and accompanying Banda triumphed in the telling.

Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) composed his Symphony No 4 in 1899-1900, with its first performance in Munich on 25th November 1901. Considered his sunniest, least complicated, and generally most accessible symphony, it is also his shortest, which helped it gain popularity with the relative smallness of its orchestra making it an easier production to stage.

With a somewhat lively, youthful, and humorous tone at its start, there are darker melancholic undertones that dance in and out the piece as we flitter between moments of joy before temporarily descending to hints of deeper despair, best reflected in the ghost-like solo violin of the second movement.

Royal Liverpool Philharmonic in Rehearsal

The ‘Heavenly’ song in the finale introduced lyrical soprano Kateřina Kněžíková, and whilst our hopes are raised by her ravishing tones suggesting contentment for the now sleeping child, we’re not entirely assured that something sinister isn’t still lurking in the background. All sections of the orchestra rose to the occasion in this collaborative and delightful rendition that certainly left the audience more than just content.

Domingo Hindoyan started his musical career as a violinist before studying conducting at Haute école de musique in Geneva, making his debut with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra in 2019. Succeeding Vasily Petrenko last September, he provides a touch of embellishment and flourish, in contrast to his predecessor’s more regimented approach, that this orchestra clearly revels in.

Kateřina Kněžíková studied at the Prague Conservatory and at the city’s Academy of Performing Arts. Earlier this year she won the BBC Music Magazine vocal award for her debut solo album Phidyle, recorded with the Janáček Philharmonic Ostrava and conductor Robert Jindra.

The Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra is the UK’s oldest, further details of upcoming productions at Liverpool Philharmonic Hall can be found at https://www.liverpoolphil.com/

This concert was dedicated to the memory of former Principal Trumpet, Rhys Owens. To the orchestra he was a friend, colleague, and influencer. To many he was a teacher, mentor, and inspiration. Rest in Peace.

Reviewer: Mark Davoren

Reviewed: 17th September 2022

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★