Archive for National Concert Hall

Angela Gheorghiu at the National Concert Hall

Posted in Music with tags , , , on October 15, 2022 by telescoper

I almost missed out on last night’s performance at the National Concert Hall in Dublin. I saw the details in the brochure when it arrived at the start of the season and marked the date in my diary but dithered about buying a ticket and when I did get round to trying a few weeks ago the concert was sold out. I kept checking on the website though and was fortunate enough to find that there were some returns, so I managed to get there after all.

Angela Gheorghiu is of course a celebrated Diva with a huge following around the world, so I should have known tickets would sell quickly. The foyers and bars of the National Concert Hall were as busy as I’ve ever seen them before a performance, and there was a bit of delay getting everyone into their seats at the start as it was so full.

Last night’s concert wasn’t the normal Friday night affair at the NCH. There were no microphones and no Paul Herriott on stage so I presume it wasn’t broadcast on RTÉ Lyric FM as the weekly concerts usually are, or even recorded. I guess there were contractual reasons for that. The National Symphony Orchestra was conducted by Ciprian Teodorașcu from Romania, as of course is the star of the show herself.

I thought Angela Gheorghiu took a little while to get into her stride, not helped by the tempo for the second number Che farò senza Euridice? which I thought was far too slow. By the time we got to Song to the Moon from Rusalka, however, she was in full flow; thereafter the concert just got better and better, especially after the wine break (which was after the Habanera from Carmen). Gheorghiu’s voice seems well suited to Puccini, and the two of his arias in the second half were particularly fine.

Angela Gheorghiu was not only in excellent voice but also looked every inch the glamorous operatic superstar we expected. In the first half she was dressed in a black dress with a plunging neckline and in the second in a blazing red gown. She established a huge rapport with the audience, making a point of turning around from time to time and singing to the folk in the choir stalls.

Picture Credit: National Symphony Orchestra.

The concert was of standard operatic repertoire but I didn’t know what Parla più piano was until I read the programme notes: it’s the love them from The Godfather, usually sung in English as Speak Softly Love. The last time I heard that was at my Mother’s funeral. Can that really have been three years ago?

The performance was received very warmly indeed, with loud cheers and standing ovations. There were encores too, of course. I just knew the first would be an Irish song, and so it was – The Last Rose of Summer. The next was Puccini’s O mio babbino caro from Gianni Schicchi and the one after that was Granada, another standard component of the concert repertoire.

There may have been more encores, but I had to leave after three to get the train home after an unforgettable evening which was a much needed tonic after an exhausting week.

Tchaikovsky, O’Leary and Beethoven at the NCH

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , , on October 8, 2022 by telescoper

Last night I attended another Friday evening concert at the National Concert Hall in Dublin by the National Symphony Orchestra directed by Kenneth Montgomery, featuring yet another world premiere.

Friday evening concerts are all broadcast live on RTÉ Lyric FM and Jane O’Leary, the composer of the intriguing work unfolding soundscapes for piano and orchestra, was in the audience last night for what was the broadcast premiere of her composition; the world premiere of this piece was the night before, in Galway, where Jane O’Leary lives.   I thought it was a fascinating atmospheric piece with the brightness of the piano played by Finghin Collins contrasted with a wide variety of orchestral colours.

Talking of contrasts, the O’Leary piece was itself contrasted sharply with the two more familiar pieces performed either side of it. The concert opened with Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings. This is a bit more than the usual lollipop you tend to get to start a concert, as it is a substantial work of four movements that lasts about 30 minutes. Though not a symphony, and performed by strings only rather than a full orchestra, it is a rather symphonic piece in the way it develops. The first movement, in Sonatina form, is a clear tribute to Mozart. The second movement, Valse, is very familiar and is sometimes performed on its own. Though not in my view one of Tchaikovsky’s more compelling works, it makes for a very enjoyable listen.

After the wine break we had a very familiar piece, Beethoven’s 6th Symphony (“The Pastoral”). It’s interesting that this hugely popular work was actually composed alongside the 5th Symphony (and both were premiered at the same concert in 1808) because they contrast so much in temperament and texture and that the 6th Symphony is an overtly programmatic work, which the 5th definitely is not. The Pastoral is celebration of the composer’s love of nature, starting with “awakening of joyful feelings upon arrival in the country” depicted in the first movement. It does have its darker moments, especially in the tempestuous 4th movement but the overall mood is upbeat and at times even jolly.

Unusually, Kenneth Montgomery had the double basses all lined up at the back of the orchestra, behind the wind instruments, for this performance which is something I’ve never seen before. The winds, especially the brass instruments, were in particularly good form and the orchestra definitely succeeded in evoking the elemental power expressed by Beethoven’s composition. The performance was much appreciated by the audience at the NCH.

It was quite a long programme and I only just made it back to Pearse station in time to have my usual hot sausage roll before the train back to Maynooth. This is the kind of concert I like very much, juxtaposing the familiar classics with brand new works and am very happy the NSO does programmes like this!

Maxim Vengerov at the National Concert Hall

Posted in Biographical, Music with tags , , , , , on October 1, 2022 by telescoper

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?

Berg & Mahler at the National Concert Hall

Posted in Biographical, Maynooth, Music with tags , , , , , , , on September 10, 2022 by telescoper
Obligatory Souvenir Programme

Last night I made it to the National Concert Hall in Dublin for the opening concert of the season for the National Symphony Orchestra directed by Chief Conductor Jaime Martín. It’s been three years since the last full season of these weekly concerts so let’s hope we get a complete set this time.

The programme for last night’s concert comprised two works by Austrian composers, Alban Berg‘s Violin Concerto (with soloist Simone Lamsma) and Gustav Mahler‘s Fifth Symphony. Each of these great pieces in its own way explores a vast emotional landscape and together they made for a compelling and moving performance.

Berg’s Violin Concerto, composed in 1935, is dedicated “to the memory of an Angel”, namely Manon Gropius, who died of polio at the age of just 18. She was the daughter of Alma Mahler and Walter Gropius (Alma Mahler’s second husband, whom she married four years after Mahler’s death).

The work is divided into two movements, each of which is in two parts. It is often described as a completely atonal (serialist) piece but it’s is composed in such a way that the twelve tones are sometimes grouped in such a way as to suggest an underlying tonality. Emotionally the piece ranges from the poignant to the fiery. Anyone who has experienced grief will recognize the sense of rage that at times bursts through. In other passages, though, the music has an austere beauty that is completely compelling.

After the wine break we had Mahler’s Fifth Symphony. This work is best known for the 4th movement Adagietto but I’ve always felt that section fits rather uncomfortably with the rest of the composition. That’s not to say that I dislike the Adagietto, which I think is one of the most beautiful movements in all music, and regularly makes me shed a tear. I just think it’s a bit of a detour from the rest of the work. I suppose one should think of it as a restful interlude before the journey reaches its climax in the 5th movement Rondo which was played with electrifying passion last night.

Like the Berg piece, Mahler’s Fifth Symphony veers across a vast emotional landscape. The conductor Bruno Walter described it as “passionate, wild, pathetic, buoyant, solemn, tender, full of the sentiments of which the human heat is capable, but still ‘only’ music”. Although by no means an atonal work, there isn’t really a clear tonal signature: at least five different keys are used and there are passages in which the key is ambiguous.

The first movement begins with a funeral march, introduced with a solo trumpet statement like a fanfare, followed by lyrical passages from the strings. The second movement is extremely tempestuous, contrasting moods of melancholy and frenzy, with the trumpet theme from the first movement returning. The third movement, a long Scherzo, is unexpectedly playful, with two thematic forms bouncing off each other. Then there’s the soulful longing of the Adagietto, beautifully played last night to a rapt audience and the joyful finale in an unambiguously major key.

Overall this was a superb concert, with the large orchestral forces marshalled superbly by Jaime Martín. I have to mention the brass section in particular, who were brilliant. It wasn’t a full house, which is a shame for the season’s curtain-raiser, but those who were there clearly enjoyed it enormously.

As it happens, last night was the first of five concerts by Garth Brooks (who he? Ed) at Croke Park. The train from Maynooth unto Dublin earlier in the evening was absolutely crammed with people (many in cowboy hats) going there and the train back was similarly full with people leaving. Fortunately I was only slightly delayed getting home by the congestion, though I think there were seriously issues with later trains. There is another concert by him next Friday, when there is another concert at the NCH so fingers crossed that my travel to and from that isn’t too badly affected either…

Mahler & Schubert at the National Concert Hall

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , on May 28, 2022 by telescoper

Yesterday evening, after a very pleasant wine reception at the end of ITP2022, I walked to the National Concert Hall in Dublin for my second concert in two days. Before the lockdown I used to go regularly to the Friday evening performances by the National Symphony Orchestra but until last night I hadn’t attended one since February 2022. Since I was in Dublin anyway and Mahler was on the menu I couldn’t resist this one and have now at last added to my stock of souvenir programmes. Last night’s concert was actually the last of the season but hopefully I’ll be able to go more frequently from September when the next season starts.

Last night’s performance began with Mahler’s Blumine which began life as the second movement (marked Andante) of his First Symphony but which was subsequently deleted. We heard the four-movement version of the work (i.e. without this part) in the second half of the concert. Blumine is a nice enough piece, relaxed and lyrical, but it is difficult to see how it was supposed to fit in with the rest of the symphony which is now always performed without it. Still, it served as a very good warm-up for the orchestra which, under the direction of Jaime Martín, established a polished tone and warm colour for this piece and for the rest of the evening.

After Blumine a large fraction of the orchestra left the stage to leave a pared-down version for some Lieder by Franz Schubert performed by legendary Swedish mezzo soprano Anne Sofie von Otter who was resplendent for the occasion in an emerald green dress.

You wait two years to go a concert and then along come two in the space of two days! Only one of the songs, the first, Romanze from the incidental music for the play Rosamunde, was actually orchestrated by Schubert; the other were written with piano accompaniment and then orchestrated by others. I have to say I didn’t find the addition of a full orchestra added much to these songs, many of which have a rather spare piano accompaniment that works superbly well. A good example is An Sylvia which has its origins in Shakespeare’s play The Two Gentlemen of Verona. I love the sprightly version of this with piano accompaniment but the orchestrated version was much slower, as if weighed down by the arrangement. Still, these pieces were beautifully sung and that made them very enjoyable. After rapturous applause, Anne Sofie von Otter returned to give an encore of the old song The Last Rose of Summer which, as you can imagine because it is set to a traditional Irish tune, went down very well with the Irish audience.

After the interval the full orchestra returned to deliver a powerfully impressive performance of Mahler’s First Symphony. The programme notes remind us that for much of his life Gustav Mahler was celebrated as a conductor rather than a composer, and the First Symphony was not well received largely because it was deemed in some quarters at the time to have a structure that was insufficiently symphonic. There’s no reason why we should pay much attention the opinions of over a hundred years ago. The symphonic form has been pulled around in many directions since this work, not least by Mahler himself, and I think Mahler 1 is a very fine work. I always particularly enjoy the 3rd movement, with its occasionally raucous evocation of a Klezmer band.

The final movement brought the piece – and the whole concert – to a thrilling climax. Near the end, the entire brass section of the orchestra (7 horns, 5 trumpets, 4 trombones, and a tuba) stood up at which point I thought “this is going to be loud”. It was. Gloriously loud.

I’ve said before on this blog how much I enjoy watching a full orchestra in action. From my position at the right of the auditorium I had a great view of the double basses who were working very hard but clearly enjoying themselves.

Anyway, last night’s concert was broadcast live on the radio and also streamed and you don’t have to take my word for anything because you can watch the whole thing yourself here:

John McLaughlin & The Fourth Dimension

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , , on May 27, 2022 by telescoper
John McLaughlin last night (Picture Credit National Concert Hall)

Last night I went to the National Concert Hall in Dublin for a superb gig by guitarist John McLaughlin with his band The Fourth Dimension. This was the first time I’d seen him live though I have known some of his music on disc, especially two albums he made with Miles Davis in the late Sixties, Bitches Brew and In A Silent Way. Since then John McLaughlin has been consistently regarded as one of the best jazz guitarists ever. He is now eighty years old but apart from the fact that his hair is white you would never guess that. He looks as fit as a fiddle, and last the band played for over 90 minutes without a break.

John McLaughlin (who was born in Doncaster but who referred to Ireland as “the land of my ancestors”) is currently on a European tour and he began his concert last night with a heartfelt expression of his gratitude for being able to perform in person with his band after a gap of over two years. This period has been particularly difficult for Jazz musicians who depend so much on mutual interaction when performing. The first number they played was called Lockdown Blues

The band The 4th Dimension brings together excellent musicians from different cultures and musical traditions, integrating their all cultural influences in a unique way while at the same time preserving the spontaneity of jazz. The result is hard to classify – there’s definitely more than an echo of McLaughlin’s earlier musical work in jazz/rock fusion, but with diverse elements of world music thrown in. His own musical style is instantly recognizable to anyone who has heard music from his back catalogue, but subtly altered to suit his current band.

Gary Husband (right in the picture), who is from the UK, played keyboards (and drums on a couple of numbers). Ranjit Barot – Indian by birth and living in Mumbai – was the main drummer (sometimes playing together with Husband, hence the two kits in the picture); he also made various vocal contributions. On electric bass (left) was the extraordinarily virtuosic Étienne M’Bappé who is of Senegalese origins. The band played collectively but also in various combinations with and without McLaughlin, who tended to move around the stage generally encouraging and directing the traffic.

It was a fantastic gig with a wide range of musical influences being evidence. I noticed two pieces made famous by Pharaoh Sanders – The Creator has a Master Plan and The Light at the Edge of the World – but there were also numerous references to McLaughlin’s work with Indian musicians.

It was a very enjoyable performance that generated a huge response from the audience. The NCH wasn’t quite full, but it was a good crowd. I think I was in danger of forgetting how much I enjoy watching musicians as well as listening to their music.

So after a break since February 2020 I’ve finally resumed concert-going. It’s not only the musicians who have missed live music! As a matter of fact I’ll be back at the National Concert Hall this very evening after the final day of ITP2022, for a very different concert…

Handel’s Messiah at the National Concert Hall

Posted in Music with tags , , on April 16, 2022 by telescoper

I wasn’t there in person yesterday – I haven’t been to a concert for a couple of years now – but I thought I’d share this recording of the sold-out Good Friday performance of Handel’s Messiah from the National Concert Hall in Dublin. Although nowadays associated mainly with Christmas, Messiah was intended to be performed at Easter and had its premiere 280 years ago in Dublin on Good Friday in 1742. The National Symphony Orchestra was conducted by Nicholas McGegan, with soloists including Máire Flavin (soprano) James Oxley (tenor) and Stephan Loges (bass-baritone) with the National Symphony Chorus (David Young, chorus director). Enjoy!

Songs of Comfort and Hope

Posted in Covid-19, Music with tags , , on June 12, 2020 by telescoper

I was just looking back at a post I wrote early in the New Year and saw that top of the list of things I resolved to do more of in 2020 were (1) to go to more live concerts and (2) to see more of Ireland. Unfortunately the Covid-19 Pandemic put paid to both of those (and the other things on the list too). I haven’t listened to live music since March and haven’t set foot outside Maynooth in that time either!

Anyway, someone at the National Concert Hall in Dublin hit on the idea of putting on live concerts without an audience. I wasn’t sure it would work but based on this concert, broadcast a couple of weeks ago, and now available as a recording on Youtube I think it does. This recital features wonderful Irish mezzo-soprano Tara Erraught and pianist Dearbhla Collins in a programme of songs by Franz Liszt, Franz Schubert, Aaron Copeland and Richard Strauss followed by some Irish folk songs. I think it’s a lovely performance, and I found the setting of an empty hall unexpectedly moving.

Wagner & Bruckner at the National Concert Hall

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , , , on February 22, 2020 by telescoper

I had to brave some very inclement weather on the way to last night’s performance at the National Concert Hall in Dublin for a performance by the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Mihhail Gerts (deputising for Natalie Stutzmann who had to withdraw “due to unforeseen circumstances”). The concert consisted of the Prelude to Act I and the Good Friday Music from the Opera Parsifal by Richard Wagner followed by Symphony No. 7 by Anton Bruckner. To my surprise these pieces were performed without a wine break interval.

As was the case a couple of weeks ago for Bruckner 8, a big orchestra was required, including a quartet of Wagnertuben.

While not everyone likes Wagnerian Opera performed in entirety there must be very few people who don’t enjoy the overtures. A programme consisting entirely of Richard Wagner’s Preludes would make for a wonderful concert, and the Prelude to Act I of Parsifal, although very familiar, is so beautiful that it bears repeated listening. Whenever I hear it I can’t help thinking of the poignant last scene of the very last episode of Inspector Morse: `Goodbye Sir’, says Lewis and kisses the dead Morse on the forehead to the accompaniment of this music from Parsifal.

The Good Friday Music occurs at the start of the Third Act of Parsifal so is in a sense also a Prelude. Even out of the context of the Opera, it provides a wonderful opportunity for reflection and contemplation because it is so subtle and understated, somewhat uncharacteristically for Wagner.

These two pieces last about half an hour, and normally one would expect an interval after them, especially since the Symphony is over an hour in duration. I’m not sure what the reason was for playing the Bruckner straight after the Wagner, but it seems to have been a last minute decision. The printed programme contains the usual `INTERVAL_ 20 minutes’ so I had ordered a drink for the interval; nobody had told the bar staff there wouldn’t be one. I got my money back, though.

One positive aspect of the lack of a pause was that it made the connection between Bruckner’s composition and Wagner even more obvious. The radiant first movement of Bruckner’s Seventh Symphony, with its noble melody soaring over shimmering violin tremolos is very reminiscent of Wagner, as is much of the rest of the Symphony (including the orchestration). Bruckner famously idolized Wagner and this composition is at least partly a tribute to his musical hero. It is said that Bruckner had a premonition of Wagner’s death in 1883 and the cymbal crash during the second (slow) movement symbolizes the moment that he found out that his premonition had come true. That whole movement (marked Sehr feierlich und sehr langsam; very solemn and very slow) is very moving: sombre though not excessively mournful. The third movement Scherzo is marked Sehr Schnell (very fast) but I found the tempo last night rather restrained. I was expecting something a bit wilder. The last movement actually sounded to me more like Mahler than Wagner.

The Seventh is probably Bruckner’s best known and most performed Symphony. It was certainly a big hit for him when it was first performed in 1884. I enjoyed last night’s performance. Usually videos of these concerts are put on the Lyric FM Youtube channel shortly after the performance, but when I looked just now last night’s wasn’t there yet. I’ll put a link up as soon as it appears.

UPDATE: Here, as promised, is the recording:


The picture above was taken a while before the performance and, although quite a few more people came in before it started, there were still quite a few empty seats. The National Concert Hall posted a (small) financial loss last year. I do the best I can to support it by attending as frequently as I can, but I am always saddened a bit to see so many empty seats. Anyway, I shall be back there this evening for a special event which is part of the Beethoven 250 celebrations, so watch this space!

Bruckner: Symphony No. 8

Posted in Music with tags , , , , , on February 8, 2020 by telescoper

Last night I once again found myself settling into a seat at the National Concert Hall in Dublin for a performance by the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra, this time under the direction of Mihhail Gerts. There was only one item on the menu – the Symphony No. 8 by Anton Bruckner – but what a feast it turned out to be!

Bruckner had a habit of making multiple revisions to his scores, and the Eighth Symphony is no exception to this. There are two major versions (usually referred to as the 1887 and 1890 versions) but also numerous edited variations of these two. For the record last night we heard the edition made by Robert Haas, based mainly on the 1890 version, but replacing some pieces which had been edited out of the 1887, perhaps most notably a quiet passage in the Third (Adagio) Movement.

This is a colossal work, lasting about 90 minutes in performance and requiring a huge orchestra so the stage was very crowded when the concert got under way.

As well as larger than usual string sections, the brass section comprises no less than eight horns, three trumpets, three trombones and a tuba as well as a quartet of Wagnertuben which you don’t often see in a symphony orchestra. These instruments have a sound somewhere between that of the horns and the trombones and they add an immense solidity to the section that produces a wall of sound that has an extraordinary effect when heard live, especially during the fortissimo passages (of which there are several in this work).

Woodwinds include a bass clarinet and a contrabassoon alongside the more usual clarinets and flutes, and there are three harps and percussion. A special mention must be made of the timpanist (Grahame King) who was given a huge amount to do, and did it all exceptionally well.

The work is structured in four movements, each of which involves a shift from minor to major (the piece opens in C minor) but each covers a very varied musical landscape. The overall atmosphere of the work varies too. At times it is tranquil (or perhaps merely resigned) but it often evokes a sense of conflict and sometimes even terror. It does, however, end in a glorious crescendo that gives a sense of triumph. Along the way there is some truly memorable passages: a gorgeous dialogue between flutes and clarinets in the 2nd Movement (Scherzo) comes to mind, and the Adagio as a whole is just magnificent.

I have never heard this work performed live, and have to admit I got completely lost in the performance. Despite the length of the concert, I never looked at my watch once during the whole thing. Congratulations to Mihhail Gerts and the entire orchestra for taking us on such an epic journey. I enjoyed every second of it, and so I think did the rest of the audience, because the end was greeted with a standing ovation.

But you don’t need to rely on my opinion. You can’t beat live music, but the entire concert is here for you to enjoy as live on the Lyric FM stream. Enjoy!