Maxim Vengerov at the National Concert Hall

It’s not often that you get the chance to be present at the world premiere of a symphony, but that was the case last night when I went to the National Concert Hall in Dublin. Ina Boyle Symphony No. 2 The Dream of the Rood was composed by Ina Boyle in 1930 but hadn’t been performed anywhere until last night. In fact Boyle was a prolific composer but few of her works were performed in her lifetime, largely because of her geographical isolation from the musical mainstream, and many still have not been.

Reading in the programme notes that Ina Boyle had composition lessons with Ralph Vaughan Williams, for which she travelled to London, I expected her Symphony No. 2 to show his influence but if it reminded me of any composer it would be Arnold Bax. Anyway, it’s a substantial work in three movements for a large orchestra.

The piece is inspired by a 10th-century Anglo-Saxon poem about the crucifixion of Christ, “rood” being an old world for “cross”. It opens with a rather folksy theme but the first movement – easily the best of the three – develops into sweeping melodic lines and moves into a more vigorous section describing the felling of the tree from which the cross was made. The other two movements (marked Adagio and Grave) represent a funeral procession and an exhortation to reflect on the meaning of the rood. Overall I thought there was too little tonal or rhythmic variety in the piece for it to be totally convincing as a symphony. However, as I’ve written on this blog many times, I go to concerts determined to get as much out of them as I can even if it isn’t fully satisfying in its entirety, there are parts of this work which are very good.

Traditionally in a concert of classical music the Symphony comes after the interval and the Concerto for so instrument comes before. This usual ordering was turned on its head at last night’s concert as after the wine break we had violinist Maxim Vengerov playing two works. No doubt most people came to hear Maxim Vengerov rather than the Symphony by Boyle and it was a good plan to put the latter first to discourage people from leaving at the interval.

I was surprised when Vengerov appeared on stage resplendent in a cobalt blue suit with matching trainers, but there is no question that he is a very charismatic performer. The Violin Concerto No. 1 by Sergei Prokofiev is a very interesting piece that veers between a tender, almost childlike, simplicity and pyrotechnic energy verging on the savage. It does have some of the call-and-answer moments between soloist and orchestra of a traditional concerto, but at times this piece feels more like a blazing row than a civilized discussion.

The second piece was Tzigane by Maurice Ravel, a much shorter work in the form of a rhapsody starting with a long solo cadenza for the violin leading into a succession of virtuosic dance-like passages of increasing complexity and excitement. It’s obviously a technically demanding work but Vengerov looked like he was enjoying every minute!

Maxim Vengerov last night. The suit looked brighter in the flesh.
Picture Credit: National Symphony Orchestra

Vengerov, who has played many times in Dublin, was a huge hit with the audience and was greeted at the end with rapturous applause. He rewarded us with an encore of a Bach piece for solo violin, dedicated the victims of the conflict in Ukraine.

And then it was back to Pearse station for the train home to Maynooth.

P.S. I wonder if Maxim Vengerov has a brother called Minim?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: