Thursday's Ulster Orchestra concert at the National Concert Hall offered a pretty rare kind of musical sandwich. In the centre were the two piano concertos of Liszt, each featuring a different soloist. And enclosing them were two atmospheric Russian works, Tchaikovsky's rarely-heard The Tempest and Stravinsky's riotously-coloured Firebird Suite.
Tchaikovsky's symphonic fantasia after Shakespeare's play has a lot going for it. It has strong ideas and generates both an effective moodiness and some ardent love music. The composer didn't, however, manage to blend everything into a persuasive whole, and the piece also suffers from the fact that certain related musical impulses were expressed with much more point in his fantasy-overture Romeo and Juliet . Stravinsky's Firebird is, by comparison, simply irresistible, individual, pictorial, characterful and sensual at every turn.
The Ulster Orchestra under principal conductor Kenneth Montgomery gave each work its all without in any way disturbing posterity's verdict on the two pieces. It was a fascinating idea to offer a contrast of soloists in Liszt's two shortish piano concertos in a single concert. Hugh Tinney played the first with a dashing thoughtfulness and also engaged fully with the opportunities for chamber music-making that Liszt opened up through a range of orchestral solos.
Finghin Collins in the second was freer in delivery and fuller in tone, with his climactic delivery sometimes sounding like an unstoppable force of nature. There was an attractive fluidity in quieter moments, too, and a sense of musical rightness in every gesture. Orchestra and conductor were with him every step of the way in this highly impressive performance.
Michael Dervan / The Irish Times