Archive for National Symphony Orchestra

Rachmaninov (×2) + Tubin at the National Concert Hall

Posted in Biographical, Music with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 27, 2023 by telescoper

Yesterday, after a nice walk through the sunny streets of Dublin, at the National Concert Hall for the final concert of the season by the National Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Mihhail Gerts, who were joined, for the second half, by the National Symphony Chorus directed by David Young and three star vocalists. The progamme consisted of two pieces by Sergei Rachmaninov (who was born 150 years ago this year) and one by Eduard Tubin (an Estonian composer who was new to me before last night).

The Isle of the Dead, by Arnold Böcklin

The first item one the menu was The Isle of the Dead, Op. 29 by Sergei Rachmaninov,  inspired by a painting of the same name by Arnold Böcklin and written around 1908. The rhythms of the opening passage evoke the motion of a boat moving across the sea to the island, from which point the piece develops among a cloud of increasingly dense harmonic layers into a dark atmosphere full of foreboding.  It’s a darkly dramatic work that I’ve enjoyed every time I heard it and last night was no exception.

There then followed the Sinfonietta on Estonian Motifs by Eduard Tubin introduced by conductor Mihhail Gerts, who is himself from Estonia. It’s a work in three movements inspired by the folk songs the composer heard as a child growing up in Estonia. I knew that much before the performance started but didn’t realize it would turn out to be such a weighty composition. The two outer movements are rhythmically complex in a way that’s reminiscent of Stravinksy (especially Petrushka) and the overall mood is far from the pastoral tranquility I’d expected: the music is rather edgy, in fact. I suppose that’s not surprising given that it was written in 1940. I enjoyed this but it is strange how much it reminded me of other composers: as well as Stravinsky, there are clear nods in the direction of Sibelius and at times it also reminded me of Arnold Bax. You might say it is a little bit derivative. I couldn’t possibly comment.

After the interval

After the wine break we had The Bells, a choral symphony for soprano, tenor, bass-baritone, chorus and large symphony orchestra by Sergei Rachmaninov (Op. 35). The words are based on a Russian translation of the poem The Bells by Edgar Allan Poe which was very popular in Russia in the early 20th century and which clearly resonated with Rachmaninov:

The sound of church bells dominated all the cities of Russia I used to know, they accompanied every Russian from childhood to the grave and no composer could escape their influence. Most of my life was lived amid vibrations of of the bells of Moscow.

Sergei Rachmaninov

The Bells is in four movements, echoing the four stanzas of the poem, and representing the journey “from childhood to the grave”, the last movement being a Lento subtitled The Mournful Iron Bells. The three soloists sing in one part each; the third movement involves orchestra and chorus only. Ukrainian tenor Valentyn Dytiuk sang in the first movement, Estonian soprano Mirjam Mesak the second and Ukrainian baritone Andrei Bondarenko the fourth. All three soloists were superb but particularly enjoyed the sinewy muscularity of Bondarenko’s baritone which gave a sense of rawness to his performance.

It was a fitting finale to the season. Congratulations to the National Symphony Orchestra for a great performance, and to the National Symphony Orchestra who were outstanding too.

Walking back to Pearse Station to get the train for Maynooth I found myself wondering when my next visit to the National Concert Hall will be. I’ll be away on sabbatical most of next year. Still, there’ll be plenty of music where I’m going…

Britten, Bacewicz & Prokofiev at the NCH

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , , , on May 20, 2023 by telescoper

Last night I went to the National Concert Hall in Dublin for the penultimate performance of the season by the National Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Christian Reif, for a programme of music by Benjamin Britten, Grażyna Bacewicz and Sergei Prokofiev all written in the 1940s. The hall was not even half full for this concert, which is a shame because it was both interesting and enjoyable, but at least it was broadcast live so it could be heard on the radio.

Before the concert

I’d never heard Britten’s Les Illuminations in a live performance before last night, although I had heard it on BBC Radio 3 some time ago. It’s a cycle of nine songs based on poems by Arthur Rimbaud, including an opening ‘fanfare’ and interlude based on a single phrase of Rimbaud J’ai seul la clef de sette parade sauvage. The themes of the text are the poet’s reactions to desire, exile, transgression and decadence. Britten apparently felt more comfortable setting these themes, and conveying the sense of homoerotic desire that pervades the poems, in French because he felt that he could use them to say things he couldn’t say in English. Even so, he did omit some of the naughtier bits of Rimbaud’s texts.

Britten started writing Les Illuminations in 1939 but finished it after he had moved to America and it was first performed in 1940. This was an early “hit” for Britten and I found Julia Bullock‘s lovely soprano voice give it a very different form of sensuality than it has when performed by a tenor; it was performed quite often by Peter Pears, actually. Incidentally, Julia Bullock is married to conductor Christian Reif.

Next up was a work that was completely new to me, the Concerto for String Orchestra by Grażyna Bacewicz which was written in 1948. In three movements, this is rather like an old-fashioned Concerto Grosso in construction, but with a distinctively modern edge. The outer movements are forceful and energetic, contrasting with a beautiful but rather desolate Andante in the middle. I’m glad to have been introduced to this work and indeed to this composer. I must find out more about her.

The first two pieces featured only the strings of the National Symphony Orchestra but after the win break the stage was joined by the brass, woodwinds, and a full panoply of percussion (including a piano) for Symphony No. 5 in B♭ Major, which he wrote in the summer of 1944 and was first performed in January 1945 with Prokofiev himself conducting. This work is generally perceived to be an expression of the anticipation of victory over the Nazis after the opening up of the Western front by the Normandy landings. According to the programme, however, the composer had been sketching the symphony for several years beforehand, so this can’t all be true. I think you can read it in two ways, one as the devastating human cost of the war with Russia and the other as a covert response to Soviet oppression. Prokofiev, like Shostakovich, was good at ambiguity. I guess he had to be.

In four movements, this Symphony opens with an expansive Andante movement, followed by and Allegro which is rather like a Scherzo, a darkly beautiful Adagio, and a very varied final Allegro. I found myself at times thinking of Prokofiev’s music for the film Alexander Nevsky and the menacing atmosphere of the ballet Romeo and Juliet.

The winds and percussion had obviously been champing at the bit during the first half, and they unleashed some terrific playing during this performance, especially during the climactic passages that evoke thunderstorms or battles. Whatever they are intended to represent, if anything, I enjoyed the loud bits very much.

Congratulations to the National Symphony Orchestra and soloist Julia Bullock on an excellent evening of music. I do enjoy being introduced to unfamiliar works and do love the site and sound of a big orchestra in full flood. I look forward to next week’s concert, the Season Finale.

Webern, Strauss and Mendelssohn at the NCH

Posted in Biographical, Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , on April 29, 2023 by telescoper

Looking back through my old blog posts, I find that the last time I went to a concert at the National Concert Hall was 10th February 2023. Owing to pressure of work I’ve had neither the time nor the energy to make the trip into Dublin since then, but last night I finally managed to get there for the excellent programme shown above, which was also broadcast live on RTÉ Lyric FM.

On this occasion the National Symphony Orchestra was conducted by Ruth Reinhardt, who last conducted the Orchestra during the pandemic in one of those weird occasions for which most of the musicians were masked, as was she. Anyway, for tonight’s performance she was unmasked long with the rest of the band.

Anton Webern’s Passacaglia (his Opus 1) was a new one on me. It’s not in the 12-tone style he adopted later as a member of the 2nd Viennese School, and can properly be regarded as a (very) late Romantic piece. It’s an intriguing variation of the Passacaglia form (originally a stately dance in triple time built on a bass theme) in that it’s not really a dance and it’s not in triple time, but it is introduced by a theme of eight notes played pizzicato on the strings, which is then followed by a set of variations. The piece only runs about 12 minutes but it packs a lot in. I found it very absorbing and enjoyed it enormously.

The Four Last Songs were published after his death, so Richard Strauss never heard them performed. The very first time they were performed was in 1950 at the Royal Albert Hall, by the London Philharmonia. One can only imagine what it must have been like for the orchestra making this music live for the very first time.  Apparently the first time any of them had seen the score was when they turned up for the rehearsal. I’m sure they knew as soon as they started playing that it was a masterpiece.

Last night we heard these songs sung by Amanda Majeski, who arrived on stage resplendent in a black evening gown. I was somewhat surprised to see her using a score for this performance. I would have thought that this was such a standard component of the repertoire that all sopranos would know all the songs off by heart. Perhaps it was just nerves, but I thought the first song, Frühling, lacked warmth but as the concert went on Amanda Majeski got into her stride and by the time she got to Im Abendrot (my favourite) she reached the right level of intensity.

I must single out the leader of the National Symphony Orchestra Elaine Clark for her gorgeous playing of the lovely violin solo in the third song, Beim Schlafengehen. I don’t mind admitting that it brought a tear to my eye.

Incidentally, as far as I know the Four Last Songs were not specifically intended to be performed together as they inevitably are these days. Although the last is my favourite, I think the first three (all based on poems by Herman Hesse) have much more in common with each other than Im Abendrot (which is a poem by Joseph von Eichendorff).

After the wine break we had Symphony No. 3 (“Scottish”) by Felix Mendelssohn. Inspired by a visit to Scotland in 1829 – the first movement was actually composed that year in Edinburgh – it wasn’t completed until over a decade later and should probably be No. 5, but who’s counting? It’s a piece on four movements, with little or no break between them. The first movement starts with a slow theme, like a hymn, but then becomes much more reminiscent of the Hebrides Overture composed in 1830. The landscape of the other three movements is very varied, sometimes cheery, sometimes lush, sometimes tempestuous. The final movement Allegro Vivacissimo has a marking guerriro (“warlike”), which in parts it is, but it also has calmer and more reflective passages before the rumbustious finale.

I always enjoy watching the musicians in these concerts, and could see last night that they were all enjoying themselves hugely. Well done to Ruth Reinhardt and the National Symphony Orchestra for an excellent performance. The hall was by no means full, which was a shame, but the concert was warmly appreciated by those of us there in the audience and no doubt by those listening on the radio.

Now there’s only a month or so to the finale of this concert season so I must try to make the most of the few remaining performances before the summer break…

Mozart, Ravel and Danielle de Niese

Posted in Biographical, Music with tags , , , , , , , , on February 4, 2023 by telescoper

After last week’s magnificent concert I couldn’t miss another chance to see and hear Danielle de Niese in at the National Concert Hall in Dublin, again with the National Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Jaime Martin. It was another fascinating (and very full) programme.

For last week’s concert, the National Concert Hall was only about two-thirds full but this time it was packed. I think the glowing reviews of La Voix Humaine contributed to that, as did the round of media interviews Danielle de Niese has done since then contributed to the full house.

Danielle de Niese seems to like singing 20th century French music and the concert opened with Shéhérazade by Maurice Ravel. This is a cycle of three songs which are settings of poems inspired by The Arabian Nights written by the pseudonymous poet Tristan Klingsor: Asie, La flûte enchantée, and L’Indifférent. Ravel was a real master of orchestration, and he creates a succession of exotic textures to complement the vocal lines. It’s not a long piece -altogether the three songs last about 15 minutes – but it covers a vast territory. There’s more than a nod to Debussy in this work too.

After that Danielle de Niese went off stage to change her frock, which was lime green for the Ravel, while the orchestra played the overture to the singspiel Die Entführung aus dem Serail (The Abduction from the Seraglio) by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. I’ve actually reviwed the whole Opera (was that really 12 years ago?) and wrote then (about the plot):

It’s admittedly a bit thin, even by the standards of comic opera but, right from the fabulous overture, the music is lovely and there’s a great deal of good-humoured fun, 

The overture is great fun to listen to, and obviously also to play. Jaime Martin was beaming and bouncing up and down on the podium during the performance.

And then Danielle de Niese returned (this time in a lurid red dress) to sing another piece by Mozart. Exsultate, Jubilate is a piece for solo voice and orchestra usually described as a motet but technically really a cantata. There are three movements, marked Allegro, Andante and Allegro. It’s obviously a work,with a religious theme, and the central Andante movement does sound like it is sacred music, but the outer Allegro movements are very operatic, with demanding coloratura passages, especially in the final Hallelujah. I don’t usually associate such vocal acrobatics with religious music, but it’s certainly a very exuberant and joyful piece. Astonishingly, Mozart was just 17 years old when he wrote it.

That piece by Mozart presented very different challenges to the soloist, Danielle de Niese but she showed herself to be a very accomplished performer in this too. With that her two-week residence in Dublin came to an end. She was presented with a huge bouquet of flowers and a standing ovation before we headed off to the bar for the interval.

After the wine break the National Symphony Orchestra was joined by the National Symphony Chorus for complete performance of the music to the ballet Daphnis et Chloé by Maurice Ravel. As is the case with Stravinsky’s Firebird, music from this ballet is often played in the form of a suite or, in the case of this ballet, two suites, but I have to say the whole is much greater than the sum of the suites and this work has become one of my favourite pieces to hear live. It’s a gloriously sensual and dramatic work, again brilliantly orchestrated, full of vibrant colours and lush textures, and even more wonderful when accompanied by the wordless singing of the massed ranks of the National Symphony Chorus. The score lasts a good hour, but that time seemed to flash by in this performance which was extremely well received by a very appreciative audience.

This was a very full programme and I had to leave during the applause to make sure I got back to Pearse station in time to catch the train back to Maynooth. I’m not as quick on my pins as I used to be. I arrived at Pearse with about five minutes to spare only to find that the train was five minutes late so I didn’t have rushed.

I have to congratulate whoever is doing the programming for these NSO concerts at the NCH. The last few have been excellent, and next week’s recipe of Ives, Beethoven and Sibelius looks great too!

Brahms, Poulenc and Danielle de Niese

Posted in Music, Opera with tags , , , , , , on January 28, 2023 by telescoper

After a very busy week and ahead of the start of a new term on Monday, it was nice to be back in the National Concert Hall in Dublin last night for a superb concert, featuring a double bill of Brahms and Poulenc. It is quite an unusual pairing to have a symphony first, but each work we heard was about 40 minutes long, so it was actually well balanced, and the contrast worked very well indeed.

Before the interval we had came the main course in the form of the Symphony No. 3 in F Major by Johannes Brahms. This is of course quite a familiar work, but I really like concerts that mix unfamiliar material with the standard concert repertoire. It also gave me the chance to persevere with Brahms as my friends keep telling me to. It’s not that I don’t like Brahms, it’s just that I don’t find that he moves me as much as many other composers and so many people rave about him that I think I must be missing something. The 3rd Symphony is a very fine work, offering lots of variety across its four movements while maintaining a strong sense of coherence. I’m no expert on Brahms but it seems to me that the 3rd Symphony is where he really found his voice as a symphonic composer and stepped out from the shadow of Beethoven. It was performed beautifully last night under the direction of Jaime Martin and the National Symphony Orchestra.

After the wine break we returned for a rare treat in the form of La Voix Humaine, a one-act Opera for soprano and orchestra by Francis Poulenc, featuring the wonderful Danielle de Niese. The staging for this work is shown in the picture taken before most the orchestra had returned: just a chaise longue, a chair, a small table and an old-fashioned telephone.

La Voix Humaine portrays the last conversation between an anonymous woman (referred to throughout as Elle, the French word for “she”) and her lover, with whom she has just broken up. Only one character appears on stage and we only hear Elle’s side of the conversation. She sings into the telephone throughout; . the audience has to infer what her ex is saying at the other end. There are also frequent interruptions from another character who keeps intruding on the conversation, as the call appears to be on a party line, a concept that younger readers will not understand! This, together with the frequent disconnections and reconnections, provides some darkly comic relief. As you can probably imagine, it doesn’t end happily.

The performance was in French and there were no surtitles. It struck me that this work would be very difficult to translate into another language, as the music so accurately follows the natural rhythm and emphasis of spoken French. We were given the full libretto, with English translation, in the programme notes, but fortunately my memory of schoolboy French was good enough to get me a pass mark on following it without having to refer to the translation.

Poulenc’s compelling and emotionally charged music helps suggest what is being said at the other end when Elle is not singing, as well as accompanying her. The score struck me as rather cinematic, in that parts could easily be imagined as incidental music in a movie. Given the nature of the libretto, much of the music is like a the recitatives you find in operatic scores, but it is also more expansive and sensual when Elle pours out her broken heart. There are definite touches of Debussy in the orchestration, but it’s a very original approach that Poulenc uses and the National Symphony Orchestra made it come alive with great intensity.

And what can I say about Danielle de Niese? Amazingly, this was the first time she had performed La Voix Humaine in front of a live audience. She was sensational. She has a lovely voice and sang beautifully but her acting was also utterly convincing and she had a compelling stage presence. This was not just a concert performance but a genuine opera. I was straight up on my feet at the end, along with the rest of the audience. Brava!

To be honest, this was the piece I went for, rather than the Brahms, as I had never heard it before. I wasn’t disappointed. It was an intensely moving performance of a remarkable work which had me in pieces at the end. I enjoyed Brahms 3rd Symphony, but La Voix Humaine hit me in the guts. I must listen to more Poulenc.

Danielle de Niese is back at the NCH next Friday, singing Ravel and Mozart. Needless to say, after last night’s performance I’ll definitely be going!

Mahler, Weber, Schubert and Strauss at the NCH

Posted in Biographical, Music with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 14, 2023 by telescoper

And so it came to pass that last night I took the train into Dublin for my first concert of the year 2023 at the National Concert Hall in Dublin which happened to be by the National Symphony Orchestra under the direction of guest conductor Carlos Kalmar.

It was an unusual programme in terms of its construction. Often the menu for such concerts begin with a short appetizer but this one started with the first movement of  Gustav Mahler‘s 10th Symphony. The composer died a hundred years ago in 1910 having not actually finished the rest of the symphony, but I gather that he left sufficiently detailed sketches and notes that complete versions have been constructed, but nevertheless the first movement is frequently performed on its own. It’s quintessentially Mahler in many ways, but it’s a strange opening for a symphony because it’s a very long Adagio movement (lasting about 30 minutes). It’s a complex and weighty movement for a full orchestra, rather cryptic in nature but overall with a rather dark tone, far from the usual lollipop to start a concert!

Originally this programme was supposed to feature the Duet Concertino by Richard Strauss but it was announced last week that this would be replaced by the Clarinet Concerto No. 1 in F Minor by Carl Maria von Weber with the NSO’s principal clarinettist John Finucane. Unusually for a concerto performance, John Finucane was reading a score, which perhaps suggests he stood in at short notice but in any case the performance was very fine. The third movement, a spirited Rondo kicked off by a very jaunty theme, is probably the most familiar piece, but I particularly enjoyed the interplay between clarinet and horns in the slow (2nd movement). John Finucane had brought his fan club with him, and the audience responded warmly.

After the wine break we had Symphony No. 8 in B Minor by Franz Schubert, the famous “Unfinished Symphony”. Somewhat surprisingly, I am pretty sure that I had never heard this piece performed live until this concert.

Schubert apparently wrote the first two wonderful movements of this piece in the space of only eight days in 1822 but then seems to have abandoned it. The composition wasn’t interrupted by his death – he didn’t pass away until 1828 – so it’s a mystery why he didn’t finish it. It wasn’t even discovered until the 1860s. Unlike Mahler 10, we don’t have any idea what the rest of this symphony would have been but the two existing movements are exceptional, not least for the stream of lovely melodies. This work clearly belongs to the same world as the Weber piece (which was composed in 1811) but having one after the other emphasizes the transition from Classical to Romantic, and having Mahler on the same programme contrasts early and late Romantic in a very illuminating way.

The last piece was Music of the Spheres, a waltz by Josef Strauss, the younger brother of the more famous Johan Strauss II. It’s a jolly enough but rather insubstantial piece that seemed rather incongruous to me in this programme, especially at the end as it is the sort of piece one could imagine as an appetizer. It seems to have been decided that something was needed in place of the missing movement(s) of the Schubert Symphony, so perhaps it was meant to play the role of a dessert?

In any case it was an upbeat way to end the concert which was very enjoyable. I then made my way out into the rain to get the train back to Maynooth. For a Friday night, Dublin was very quiet indeed, perhaps because of the inclement weather and/or the post-Christmas lull. The NCH wasn’t full but there was a decent attendance and the performance was warmly appreciated.

P.S. Note that the National Symphony Orchestra is no longer the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra owing to some restructuring. Note also that it is planned to close down the NCH for at least two years for extensive refurbishment. I’m not sure what will happen to the NSO during this period.

Angela Gheorghiu at the National Concert Hall

Posted in Music with tags , , , on October 15, 2022 by telescoper

I almost missed out on last night’s performance at the National Concert Hall in Dublin. I saw the details in the brochure when it arrived at the start of the season and marked the date in my diary but dithered about buying a ticket and when I did get round to trying a few weeks ago the concert was sold out. I kept checking on the website though and was fortunate enough to find that there were some returns, so I managed to get there after all.

Angela Gheorghiu is of course a celebrated Diva with a huge following around the world, so I should have known tickets would sell quickly. The foyers and bars of the National Concert Hall were as busy as I’ve ever seen them before a performance, and there was a bit of delay getting everyone into their seats at the start as it was so full.

Last night’s concert wasn’t the normal Friday night affair at the NCH. There were no microphones and no Paul Herriott on stage so I presume it wasn’t broadcast on RTÉ Lyric FM as the weekly concerts usually are, or even recorded. I guess there were contractual reasons for that. The National Symphony Orchestra was conducted by Ciprian Teodorașcu from Romania, as of course is the star of the show herself.

I thought Angela Gheorghiu took a little while to get into her stride, not helped by the tempo for the second number Che farò senza Euridice? which I thought was far too slow. By the time we got to Song to the Moon from Rusalka, however, she was in full flow; thereafter the concert just got better and better, especially after the wine break (which was after the Habanera from Carmen). Gheorghiu’s voice seems well suited to Puccini, and the two of his arias in the second half were particularly fine.

Angela Gheorghiu was not only in excellent voice but also looked every inch the glamorous operatic superstar we expected. In the first half she was dressed in a black dress with a plunging neckline and in the second in a blazing red gown. She established a huge rapport with the audience, making a point of turning around from time to time and singing to the folk in the choir stalls.

Picture Credit: National Symphony Orchestra.

The concert was of standard operatic repertoire but I didn’t know what Parla più piano was until I read the programme notes: it’s the love them from The Godfather, usually sung in English as Speak Softly Love. The last time I heard that was at my Mother’s funeral. Can that really have been three years ago?

The performance was received very warmly indeed, with loud cheers and standing ovations. There were encores too, of course. I just knew the first would be an Irish song, and so it was – The Last Rose of Summer. The next was Puccini’s O mio babbino caro from Gianni Schicchi and the one after that was Granada, another standard component of the concert repertoire.

There may have been more encores, but I had to leave after three to get the train home after an unforgettable evening which was a much needed tonic after an exhausting week.

Tchaikovsky, O’Leary and Beethoven at the NCH

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , , on October 8, 2022 by telescoper

Last night I attended another Friday evening concert at the National Concert Hall in Dublin by the National Symphony Orchestra directed by Kenneth Montgomery, featuring yet another world premiere.

Friday evening concerts are all broadcast live on RTÉ Lyric FM and Jane O’Leary, the composer of the intriguing work unfolding soundscapes for piano and orchestra, was in the audience last night for what was the broadcast premiere of her composition; the world premiere of this piece was the night before, in Galway, where Jane O’Leary lives.   I thought it was a fascinating atmospheric piece with the brightness of the piano played by Finghin Collins contrasted with a wide variety of orchestral colours.

Talking of contrasts, the O’Leary piece was itself contrasted sharply with the two more familiar pieces performed either side of it. The concert opened with Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings. This is a bit more than the usual lollipop you tend to get to start a concert, as it is a substantial work of four movements that lasts about 30 minutes. Though not a symphony, and performed by strings only rather than a full orchestra, it is a rather symphonic piece in the way it develops. The first movement, in Sonatina form, is a clear tribute to Mozart. The second movement, Valse, is very familiar and is sometimes performed on its own. Though not in my view one of Tchaikovsky’s more compelling works, it makes for a very enjoyable listen.

After the wine break we had a very familiar piece, Beethoven’s 6th Symphony (“The Pastoral”). It’s interesting that this hugely popular work was actually composed alongside the 5th Symphony (and both were premiered at the same concert in 1808) because they contrast so much in temperament and texture and that the 6th Symphony is an overtly programmatic work, which the 5th definitely is not. The Pastoral is celebration of the composer’s love of nature, starting with “awakening of joyful feelings upon arrival in the country” depicted in the first movement. It does have its darker moments, especially in the tempestuous 4th movement but the overall mood is upbeat and at times even jolly.

Unusually, Kenneth Montgomery had the double basses all lined up at the back of the orchestra, behind the wind instruments, for this performance which is something I’ve never seen before. The winds, especially the brass instruments, were in particularly good form and the orchestra definitely succeeded in evoking the elemental power expressed by Beethoven’s composition. The performance was much appreciated by the audience at the NCH.

It was quite a long programme and I only just made it back to Pearse station in time to have my usual hot sausage roll before the train back to Maynooth. This is the kind of concert I like very much, juxtaposing the familiar classics with brand new works and am very happy the NSO does programmes like this!

Berg & Mahler at the National Concert Hall

Posted in Biographical, Maynooth, Music with tags , , , , , , , on September 10, 2022 by telescoper
Obligatory Souvenir Programme

Last night I made it to the National Concert Hall in Dublin for the opening concert of the season for the National Symphony Orchestra directed by Chief Conductor Jaime Martín. It’s been three years since the last full season of these weekly concerts so let’s hope we get a complete set this time.

The programme for last night’s concert comprised two works by Austrian composers, Alban Berg‘s Violin Concerto (with soloist Simone Lamsma) and Gustav Mahler‘s Fifth Symphony. Each of these great pieces in its own way explores a vast emotional landscape and together they made for a compelling and moving performance.

Berg’s Violin Concerto, composed in 1935, is dedicated “to the memory of an Angel”, namely Manon Gropius, who died of polio at the age of just 18. She was the daughter of Alma Mahler and Walter Gropius (Alma Mahler’s second husband, whom she married four years after Mahler’s death).

The work is divided into two movements, each of which is in two parts. It is often described as a completely atonal (serialist) piece but it’s is composed in such a way that the twelve tones are sometimes grouped in such a way as to suggest an underlying tonality. Emotionally the piece ranges from the poignant to the fiery. Anyone who has experienced grief will recognize the sense of rage that at times bursts through. In other passages, though, the music has an austere beauty that is completely compelling.

After the wine break we had Mahler’s Fifth Symphony. This work is best known for the 4th movement Adagietto but I’ve always felt that section fits rather uncomfortably with the rest of the composition. That’s not to say that I dislike the Adagietto, which I think is one of the most beautiful movements in all music, and regularly makes me shed a tear. I just think it’s a bit of a detour from the rest of the work. I suppose one should think of it as a restful interlude before the journey reaches its climax in the 5th movement Rondo which was played with electrifying passion last night.

Like the Berg piece, Mahler’s Fifth Symphony veers across a vast emotional landscape. The conductor Bruno Walter described it as “passionate, wild, pathetic, buoyant, solemn, tender, full of the sentiments of which the human heat is capable, but still ‘only’ music”. Although by no means an atonal work, there isn’t really a clear tonal signature: at least five different keys are used and there are passages in which the key is ambiguous.

The first movement begins with a funeral march, introduced with a solo trumpet statement like a fanfare, followed by lyrical passages from the strings. The second movement is extremely tempestuous, contrasting moods of melancholy and frenzy, with the trumpet theme from the first movement returning. The third movement, a long Scherzo, is unexpectedly playful, with two thematic forms bouncing off each other. Then there’s the soulful longing of the Adagietto, beautifully played last night to a rapt audience and the joyful finale in an unambiguously major key.

Overall this was a superb concert, with the large orchestral forces marshalled superbly by Jaime Martín. I have to mention the brass section in particular, who were brilliant. It wasn’t a full house, which is a shame for the season’s curtain-raiser, but those who were there clearly enjoyed it enormously.

As it happens, last night was the first of five concerts by Garth Brooks (who he? Ed) at Croke Park. The train from Maynooth unto Dublin earlier in the evening was absolutely crammed with people (many in cowboy hats) going there and the train back was similarly full with people leaving. Fortunately I was only slightly delayed getting home by the congestion, though I think there were seriously issues with later trains. There is another concert by him next Friday, when there is another concert at the NCH so fingers crossed that my travel to and from that isn’t too badly affected either…

Mahler & Schubert at the National Concert Hall

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , on May 28, 2022 by telescoper

Yesterday evening, after a very pleasant wine reception at the end of ITP2022, I walked to the National Concert Hall in Dublin for my second concert in two days. Before the lockdown I used to go regularly to the Friday evening performances by the National Symphony Orchestra but until last night I hadn’t attended one since February 2022. Since I was in Dublin anyway and Mahler was on the menu I couldn’t resist this one and have now at last added to my stock of souvenir programmes. Last night’s concert was actually the last of the season but hopefully I’ll be able to go more frequently from September when the next season starts.

Last night’s performance began with Mahler’s Blumine which began life as the second movement (marked Andante) of his First Symphony but which was subsequently deleted. We heard the four-movement version of the work (i.e. without this part) in the second half of the concert. Blumine is a nice enough piece, relaxed and lyrical, but it is difficult to see how it was supposed to fit in with the rest of the symphony which is now always performed without it. Still, it served as a very good warm-up for the orchestra which, under the direction of Jaime Martín, established a polished tone and warm colour for this piece and for the rest of the evening.

After Blumine a large fraction of the orchestra left the stage to leave a pared-down version for some Lieder by Franz Schubert performed by legendary Swedish mezzo soprano Anne Sofie von Otter who was resplendent for the occasion in an emerald green dress.

You wait two years to go a concert and then along come two in the space of two days! Only one of the songs, the first, Romanze from the incidental music for the play Rosamunde, was actually orchestrated by Schubert; the other were written with piano accompaniment and then orchestrated by others. I have to say I didn’t find the addition of a full orchestra added much to these songs, many of which have a rather spare piano accompaniment that works superbly well. A good example is An Sylvia which has its origins in Shakespeare’s play The Two Gentlemen of Verona. I love the sprightly version of this with piano accompaniment but the orchestrated version was much slower, as if weighed down by the arrangement. Still, these pieces were beautifully sung and that made them very enjoyable. After rapturous applause, Anne Sofie von Otter returned to give an encore of the old song The Last Rose of Summer which, as you can imagine because it is set to a traditional Irish tune, went down very well with the Irish audience.

After the interval the full orchestra returned to deliver a powerfully impressive performance of Mahler’s First Symphony. The programme notes remind us that for much of his life Gustav Mahler was celebrated as a conductor rather than a composer, and the First Symphony was not well received largely because it was deemed in some quarters at the time to have a structure that was insufficiently symphonic. There’s no reason why we should pay much attention the opinions of over a hundred years ago. The symphonic form has been pulled around in many directions since this work, not least by Mahler himself, and I think Mahler 1 is a very fine work. I always particularly enjoy the 3rd movement, with its occasionally raucous evocation of a Klezmer band.

The final movement brought the piece – and the whole concert – to a thrilling climax. Near the end, the entire brass section of the orchestra (7 horns, 5 trumpets, 4 trombones, and a tuba) stood up at which point I thought “this is going to be loud”. It was. Gloriously loud.

I’ve said before on this blog how much I enjoy watching a full orchestra in action. From my position at the right of the auditorium I had a great view of the double basses who were working very hard but clearly enjoying themselves.

Anyway, last night’s concert was broadcast live on the radio and also streamed and you don’t have to take my word for anything because you can watch the whole thing yourself here: