Music to warm the heart and soul
THERE was more than a little frost in the air on Friday night as people made their way to the Waterfront Hall for the Ulster Orchestra's concert. All was temperate within, however, with a programme calculated to get the circulation going and warm one's blood and heart.
Dvorak's Carnival Overture got things off to a lively start, suggesting bohemian merry makers dancing in Slavic streets. This had the fast pace required and a quality of bounce also so necessary to drive it forward. A quiet interlude in the middle was illuminated by a velvety violin solo before the revellers' return, this time seemingly bringing with them a hostage tambourine player, whose frantic virtuosity brings the piece and the party to a riotous end.
The star turn of Friday's concert was violinist Nicola Benedetti, familiar to audiences here from her appearance two years ago in Proms in the Park. She spoke with conductor Kenneth Montgomery in a pre-concert talk about her approach to great violin repertoire which is familiar and also works that are not as well known. Certainly the Tchaikovsky is of the former category. Thought to be unplayable when it appeared, it eventually found favour, though not before a review of its première suggested that it evoked "wild and vulgar faces ... curses and bad brandy". I'm guessing that these exaggerated qualities are actually part of the secret of this work's eventual success. There are great sweeping tunes, and Nicola Benedetti has a warm, sensuous approach to melody, bolstered by solid technique and exquisite tuning. The instrument she plays, a Stradivarius, has a remarkably rich lower register. She consistently melds the sound of the instrument with a thoughtful, fully realised approach to the notes. Even when several high harmonics in the cadenza went slightly wrong, her musical ideas won through. In the fiendish finale, she managed a relentless pace, expertly supported by the orchestra in tricky tempo changes and sturdy rhythmic underpinning.
After the interval, much needed for breath-catching, some tidy Mozart, perhaps as an antidote to the romanticism of the rest of the programme. The Haffner Symphony is reflective of a particularly chaotic period in Mozart's rather fraught life. In fact, this was a very happy reading of this piece, though in addition to fun, careful phrasing was the order of the day. The fifth note of the important opening phrase was tapered off, and a general lightness of touch prevailed. This was conductor Montgomery at his most sure-footed, and the orchestra played keenly and with real style.
More Tchaikovsky rounded off the evening with a spirited, narrative account of the fantasy Overture Romeo and Juliet. In the same way we know the story well, we are mostly familiar with this music, but Friday's performance illuminated some of the secondary themes, and with a tempo that didn't hang about, even the big tune sounded fresh. There was detail and colour and a chance for each section of the orchestra to shine, a fact acknowledged at the end of the concert with Montgomery's "meet the orchestra" style acknowledgment of the sustained, richly deserved applause.
This Friday's Concert features pianist Nikolai Demidenko playing Tchaikovsky, and works by Beethoven, including the Fifth Symphony. Prior to the concert, at 6.45, there's a short concert of compositions by students who recently took part in UO/UYO workshops with composer Brian Irvine.
Andrea Rea / Newsletter, 27/11/07