Grand organ true star of outstanding performance
It was fitting that the Belfast Festival at Queen's should feature one of the city's greatest musical assets, namely the Ulster Hall's Mulholland Grand Organ which was built by William Hill in 1861-62 during the historic years of the burgeoning Victoriana.
This concert featured not one but two popular organ concertos, played by the distinguished soloist Dame Gillian Weir and the Ulster Orchestra under the direction of its former Principal Conductor Kenneth Montgomery, who was making a welcome appearance in his native Belfast. The conductor, orchestra, timpanist David Openshaw and soloist Dame Gillian displayed a close rapport during the demanding Poulenc Concert for Organ String Orchestra and Timpani, in a finely judged performance. This followed Ravel's Mother Goose, during which the playing hinted at the delights ahead.
In the second half the principal work was the highly popular Saint-Saens Organ Symphony which is so familiar that is usually wafts comfortably across the consciousness with a warm glow, but with short recall.
Last night was different, with maestro Montgomery and Dame Gillian bringing out all the nuances and power of this accessible and still surprisingly beautiful symphony.
This was a performance where everything worked superbly, from the first bars right to the thrilling finish, and it was much appreciated by an enthusiastic audience.
This was an all-round star performance, but perhaps the brightest star was the Mulholland Organ itself which is a hidden treasure, and not heard nearly often enough.
Some people may have expected an encore, but it would have been impossible to better the finale to one of the highlights not only of the Festival, but almost certainly of this orchestral season.
Alf McCreary, Belfast Telegraph, 23/10/2010