tue 19/10/2021

Sheku Kanneh-Mason, RLPO, Hindoyan, BBC Proms review - wood magic and swashbuckling show-offs | reviews, news & interviews

Sheku Kanneh-Mason, RLPO, Hindoyan, BBC Proms review - wood magic and swashbuckling show-offs

Sheku Kanneh-Mason, RLPO, Hindoyan, BBC Proms review - wood magic and swashbuckling show-offs

The cellist meditates, the Liverpudlian orchestra lets rip with its lively new chief conductor

Sheku Kanneh-Mason with Domingo Hindoyan conducting the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra in Dvořák's Cello ConcertoAll images by Chris Christodoulou for the BBC

After 14 years as principal conductor, Vasily Petrenko has left the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra in top-league shape. The players must be as thrilled as we are that his successor, Venezuelan Armenian Domingo Hindoyan, carries the flame, catches the spark, call it what you will, with a distinct personality of his own, combining clariy and elegance in baton-wielding with a very watchable physical freedom.

This Proms programme was well-tailored to presenting the new incumbent and the skills of each orchestral department in equal measure, and the star soloist, Sheku Kanneh-Mason, guaranteed the fullest house I’ve seen in the Royal Albert Hall out of the five Proms I’ve attended (though really, so many unmasked Prommers in an unusually packed Arena? I know you have to provide a vaccine certificate to get in, but still...).

Kanneh-Mason’s interpretation of the Dvořák Cello Concerto (pictured below) certainly doesn’t play to the gallery, and in terms of the capricious venue, that had drawbacks as well as subtle advantages. When, nearly a year ago, I heard his first try-out, in a rather beguiling chamber-orchestra arrangement by George Morton played by expert young musicians of the Fantasia Orchestra, the very spaced-out audience were close to the players, albeit in a reverberant church (St Mary Abbots Kensington). It felt intensely passionate, still a bit rough around the edges.

Sheku Kanneh-Mason in the Dvorak Cello Concerto at the PromsApart from a tiny bit of over-urged double stopping which sent the usually reliable pitch awry, the Proms performance seemed, from a seat to the side where you admittedly lose a lot of the sound that’s going out front, contained, very sophisticated indeed in solo transitions, suitably lonely and plaintive as the first-movement development leaves the cellist lost in the twilight, above all very fine-tuned to the woodwind solos who share the limelight with the soloist as much as in the late Mozart piano concertos. The encore was perfect in context: an evanescent use of the pizzicato Dvorak avoids in his own transcendental homage to Bacharach and Aretha Franklin, seemingly improvising on “I Say a Little Prayer" (though no doubt it was all notated). As so often, the magic of the hall comes into its own when you hear a great soloist intimately communing on his or her own with thousands.

More than ever, the Dvořák felt like a Symphony-Concerto, with equal glories going to the woodwind, projecting so well into the hall, and one of the noblest-toned horn ensembles that’s ever graced the Proms – principal Timothy Jackson got us off to a dreamy start within the orchestral introduction. Vivid images of a wooded landscape with birdsong were inescapable, prompted, surely, by the sylvan magic of the opening commission shared by the BBC and the RLPO, Grace-Evangeline Mason’s The Imagined Forest (the composer pictured below). It certainly turned me to look at the often fascinating nature-collages of Clare Celeste Börsch, Mason’s inspiration. Had it stayed static, you might have labelled The Imagined Forest superior music for a Living Planet documentary. But Mason knows how to move symphonically, and there’s even an organically-evolved dance sequence before the music shifts back to its opening trumpet note (a relief in itself not to be greeted by an initial percussion splatter, even if the tubular bells are still in the score). I certainly want to hear more of this composer. Grace-Evnageline Mason at the PromsNevertheless glittering mastery of orchestral possibilities only truly hit us in the second half. The swashbuckling adventures of Strauss’s Don Juan immediately tell us if the conductor has both the fire and the flexibility for late-romantic repertoire, and that was absolutely the case with Hindoyan, sheddling new light especially on carnival japes shortly after the midway arrival of the great theme for horns. Perfect poise from principal oboist Jonathan Small in what Strauss tells us is the one deeper love of the libertine’s life was shadowed by exquisitely delicate muted strings and horns.

Flautist Cormac Henry was the soloist-star in Hindemith’s Symphonic Metamorphosis on Themes by Carl Maria von Weber, in a dreamy descant to a wistful theme, respite among otherwise racy and sharp-edged ripostes to Strauss’s luxury horse composed 54 years earlier. Hindemith’s orchestra is big, all the same – lucky this second half was programmed at a time when mid-range orchestral pieces had to be the order of the day – and the percussion get to shine as much as any other department; the RLPO’s new bells of the non-tubular variety were duly applauded at the end. Domngo Hindoyan at the PromsHindoyan’s racy but always focused energy propelled the three marches, and caught the humour of the riffs on Weber’s pentatonic Chinese melody of the Turandot fantasy (re-used bythe original composer in his music for the Gozzi play that also inspired Puccini and Busoni in two very different operas). The Strauss of Till Eulenspiegel must have applauded Hindemith’s ability to make us laugh out loud. What a great concert for the packed audience of all ages, especially the young who aren’t so often in evidence at the Proms; if only it could have been televised as well.

Comments

Hi! Just read your very nice review of the RLPO Prom from Sunday. Pretty sure the principal flautist’s name is Cormac Henry. Thought it worth mentioning since he receives such praise!

Many thanks, James - worth getting it right indeed (forgive poor sight in scouring the players' list in the programme). Duly corrected.

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