Back in the dark old pre-NCH days of symphony concerts in what was then the St Francis Xavier Hall in Sherrard Street there was one conductor who could be relied on to achieve results that stood out. Proinnsías Ó Duinn took a leaf out of Leopold Stokowski's book, and rearranged the orchestra with the wind players at the front of the platform, on the right, a position which guaranteed them a degree of audibility simply unattainable from their normal position towards the back of the stage in that acoustically nightmarish venue.
Kenneth Montgomery's platform rearrangements for his current Mozart series with the Orchestra of St Cecilia hark back to much earlier models.
But part of the effectiveness of his undertaking stems from the different responses of musicians and singers finding themselves hearing sounds that are unusually balanced. Think of it as a first drive in a new car. The different vehicle dimensions and the unfamiliar rear-view mirrors create new awarenesses, which trigger different reactions and reflexes.
Montgomery here arrayed his choruses across the front of the stage, with their own conductor, Blánaid Murphy at the very front. A continuo organ (or, more correctly, a continuo synthesizer) was centrally placed among the singers. Montgomery and most of the orchestra were ranged behind the chorus, and the soloists were placed on high, at the back of the stage. Most unusually, the orchestra's three trombonists were placed as far away from the rest of the orchestra as possible - towards the front of the stage, two on the left and one on the right.
The keyword for the evening was transparency. Nobody seemed to want to hog attention at anyone else's expense. The trombones blended with creamy smoothness, the choirs (the Palestrina Choir in the Requiem, the Dublin Back Singers in the C minor Mass) sang without strain, and with a sure sense of which vocal line was carrying the most important musical material. The main orchestral body played with a rhythmic spring in its step, and the four soloists - soprano Sylvia O'Brien, contralto Alison Browner, tenor Robin Tritschler and bass Nigel Williams - worked with respectful collegiality.
It was quite an extraordinary sight to see two conductors waving their distinctively-styled ways on the one stage, with the centrally-placed Montgomery working as a kind of crossroads communicator, rather than the dynamic dictator that conductors are often felt to be.
Murphy, as the follower, had the harder task and, although the point of her beat was much more loosely defined than Montgomery's, overall co-ordination did not seem to suffer, and the choirs must surely have appreciated having their regular conductor to work with.
It was the performance of the Requiem which made the stronger impression, not least because of the greater security and refinement of the group of soloists. Strange as it may seem, for such frequently-heard and much-loved work, the Requiem is a piece which often congeals in performance to become, musically speaking, a kind of heart-warming mess of potage. Under Montgomery and Murphy everything stood clear and distinct, and turned out to be all the more heart-warming for that.
Michael Dervan, The Irish Times, 8-11-06