Haydn: Symphony No. 86 in D; Sibelius: Violin Concerto in D minor, Op. 47; Nielsen: Symphony No. 5, Op. 50

Jackiw, RTE Symphony Orchestra/Lintu

National Concert Hall, 15 May 2011 3 stars

LintuFriday evenings at the National Concert Hall are the preserve of the RTE Symphony Orchestra. Recently the RTE SO has extended its scope into late night concerts and other activities, but its mainstay remains this Friday evening slot at its resident venue, broadcast live on national radio and always drawing a crowd.

Last Friday the Orchestra was under the baton of Finnish conductor Hannu Lintu. In 2010 Lintu became Principal Guest Conductor of the RTE SO, taking on the position at the same time as Alan Buribayev became the Orchestra's Principal Conductor. In recent years the previous Principal Conductor, Gerhard Marksonn, achieved great things with the RTE SO, and though he is missed, the current duo is doing a good job at building on his achievements.

One could have hoped, however, for a more inspiring programme than what was on offer. In fairness that hope would have been well placed had the programme run as originally planned. The first slot on the bill should have seen the premiere of a new commission by Berlin-based Irish composer Andrew Hamilton. Hamilton is one of the best of Irish composers – never mind young Irish composers – and the postponement of his new work was a shame.

Instead we had Haydn, and to this listener's ears at least, one couldn't find anything further removed from interesting new music than Haydn. Conventional wisdom sees him as an old warhorse, a composer full of wit and warmth, or a safe orchestral bet, but cast in another light Haydn signals the hectoring of classical music's ossification.

The Symphony No. 86 in D major is one of Haydn's Paris Symphonies, commissioned in 1784 by Comte d'Ogny for the Masonic 'Concert de la Loge Olympique', a concert series attended by Queen Marie Antoinette among other distinguished nobles.

In his reading Lintu did his best to quicken the pulse, displaying a stage manner full of headbanging and gyrating and flailing around close-eyed with the bobbing baton. Add to the mix some stylishly messy hair and an undone top shirt button and you had the impression of someone trying in vain to turn classical music into punk rock.

But whatever one's cynicism about his image, the sound he brought out of the orchestra was another matter. Notwithstanding an early fluffed entry by the brass, the playing had real punch and was brilliantly dynamic. Lintu's control was confident and strong, pushing and pulling the alternating lulls and clamour. The brass in particular had real sheen.

The best movements were the light-as-air Menuetto and the captivating Capriccio. This latter fascinated and was perhaps the best music all night. An appositely odd movement, over its course it draws the listener in closer and closer, forming an intimate bond, a bond it leaves up in the air through a series of baffling silences, the silences punctuating the musical discourse like the missing panels of a rope-bridge. A stasis remarkably descended on the hall, with the audience captive in silence.

The RTE SO was next joined by the young American Stefan Jackiw for Sibelius's Violin Concerto. The Finnish composer's only concerto, this work was originally composed in 1903 and had a messy performance genesis, the premiere being a disaster and the original promised performer being written out of the picture by Sibelius. Though it is now a favourite of the repertoire, it took a while for the work's merit to be recognised by the concert-going public.

Still only 26 and with the demeanour of a whizz-kid, Jackiw gave Lintu a run for his money in the ostentatious stage manner stakes, the Concerto's doleful first theme being dispatched with heavy vibrato and cheap histrionics. The work is a dark one, and Jackiw's preoccupation with his own showiness denied the audience closer acquaintance with this darkness. But the work is also a virtuosic one, and playing without a score, Jackiw dispatched the solo part with an ability that at times was astonishing.

As a whole the piece felt over-long, dragging in the second and third movements. Following hearty applause and standing ovations from the crowd, Jackiw remained onstage afterwards for a solo encore of the Largo from J. S. Bach’s Sonata in C.

Nielsen's Symphony No. 5, which took up the second half of the concert, is a symphony in the grand Romantic manner, full of meaning and self-seriousness. It is good fare for this type of concert, but unfortunately was overwrought here.

It opened promisingly enough. Though the pacing felt off, the initial tense build-up out of silence, to the enigmatic backdrop of tremolo violas, was well handled, with the martial outburst on snare drum, when it came along, captivating and full of dread.

But somewhere along the way vim gave way to flab, and the overall shape was not convincingly yielded up. Despite this, Lintu managed to garner excellent sound quality from the orchestra, and the crescendi and tutti were explosively rendered throughout.

By Liam Cagney

Photo by Sini Pennanen

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