REVIEW: National Symphony Orchestra at SETU Arena
WHEN you reach 75, there’s plenty to blow about. And tonight’s concert from the NCO is all of that. It’s a ballyhoo big-blow boomer that would wake a deaf man in a coma in Ballybricken. Internationally renowned Lio Kuokman – currently resident conductor of the Hong Kong Philharmonic, who is described as a “startling conducting talent” – gives it socks on the podium and tonight’s programme is a spring delight.
Given the times that we live in, Polish composer Grazyna Bacewucz’s Overture (1909-69) seems poignantly apt. She wrote the compact and packed Overture in Nazi-occupied Warsaw (where she regularly gave underground concerts for the besieged city’s residents) in 1943, the year before the Warsaw uprising, as the bombs fell nightly about the city. Bacewicz’s sister was wounded, and her family was moved first to a displaced-persons’ camp in Pruszków (on the outskirts of Warsaw) and then to Lublin (a hundred miles distant).
She nonetheless completed a handful of major pieces – her String Quartet No. 2, Sonata No. 1 for Solo Violin, and Symphony No. 1, in addition to tonight’s Overture for orchestra. Michael Quinn’s programme notes describe the piece as one of the most honest, stirring and courageous statements during the period. Certainly, there’s an energy and a hope here that defies Nazi Warsaw. Bacewicz was a fiddle player and the agitated string parts carry the desperation of the times in a swirl of sound. There’s a folksy, elegiac hope here as well from the reeds that peeps through a band blazing with defiance to the invaders. Bacewicz’s recurrent use of the Beethoven 5th “da-da-da-daa” rhythm, that mimicked the wartime Morse Code “V for Victory” would have been hugely significant in wartime Warsaw. A brilliant ballyhoo of an opening to the concert.
Italian Francesca Dega is the soloist with style – the first female classical musician to be dressed by the Italian fashion house Versace – for the Mozart Violin Concerto No. 5 and her performance is a real Bobby Dazzler. It’s a piece that’s a powerhouse of energy that’s rich and tuneful. At times, it seems almost like an opera because it’s rich and songlike. Unusually, the soloist doesn’t simply slip into the opening Allegro but Mozart stops the Allegro completely to introduce the violin with a dazzling Adagio that is a joy to listen to. Here, long melodies slowly unwind with sighs and slight pauses that all make for very gentle listening. The Allegro that follows makes big demands on the soloist with the introduction of a new theme and an unaccompanied cadenza that’s quite breathtaking and the final Rondo that follows is packed with acrobatic finger work from Francesca amid a fiery finale.
Dvořák’s Symphony No. 8 takes up where the Mozart laid off with booming and explosive timpani that pack a powerful punch after a lyrical bird call melody on flute. The following Adagio cracks along in a conversation between woodwind and strings. Like the Beethoven Pathetique, the composition is inspired by pastoral landscapes on a summer’s day before a storm interrupts. There’s quite a melancholic feel to the waltz of the Allegretto before the battles of the final Allegro opens with a fanfare of trumpets. You could touch the tension from the strings as the tempo gathers pace. The entries of the brass and timps bring the whole symphony to a rowdy and dramatic conclusion that fully merits the standing ovation.
Hats off to the National Concert Orchestra for three quarters of a century of music.