For his debut disc as the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic’s chief conductor, Domingo Hindoyan has brought together three of the most significant French ballet scores of the first half of the 20th century. Paul Dukas’s La Péri and Debussy’s Jeux, both arguably their composers’ greatest orchestral achievements, were first performed within 13 months of each other, in 1912 and 1913 respectively, while Albert Roussel’s Bacchus et Ariane dates from 1931. Hindoyan opts for the second suite that Roussel extracted from his score.
As an introduction to the new Liverpool partnership, it could hardly be more impressive. Jeux is always a tricky, elusive work to bring off, but from the mysterious opening onwards, Hindoyan’s performance has a beguiling charm – if perhaps a bit too charming at moments when detachment might have been more effective. The RLPO’s playing, meanwhile, has all the refinement and balance anyone could expect. There is also room on the disc for more Debussy, a suitably languorous, carefully nuanced account of the Prélude à l’Après-midi d’un Faune.
Like Jeux, La Péri is designated as a poème dansé, and it is preceded here with the sumptuous fanfare that Dukas composed to preface his ballet. It’s a beautifully proportioned score of rich, glowing sonorities – Dukas often shows a fondness for woodwind instruments in their lowest registers – and Hindoyan and his orchestra clearly relish every morsel of it.
Alongside these masterpieces Roussel’s ballet, in which the influence of Debussy and Ravel is spiced with edgier elements from Stravinskyan neoclassicism, sometimes seems a little ordinary; even in the abridged form of a suite, there are some distinctly routine passages. But the performance can’t be faulted, and if this is intended to be the first instalment in a series of Liverpool recordings of the French repertoire, then a release devoted to Roussel’s symphonies would certainly be worthwhile.
This week’s other pick
In his latest collaboration with the Lausanne Chamber Orchestra, Heinz Holliger conducts a programme of Schoenberg and Webern for the Fuga Libera label. The main works are both symphonies of a sort – Schoenberg’s Op 9 Chamber Symphony, in a performance that thrillingly conveys the work’s ceaseless flood of invention, and Webern’s utterly different Symphony Op 21, barely 10 minutes long, in which every detail is exquisitely sculpted.
Two arrangements complete the disc: Holliger’s orchestral expansions of Schoenberg’s Six Little Piano Pieces Op 19, painted in pointillist colours, and Webern’s own string-orchestra version of his Five Pieces for String Quartet Op 5.