The RTE National Symphony Orchestra was again under the baton of conductor Jonathan Schiffman. Tonight he will be joined by Finnish pianist Antti Siirala for a performance of Johannes Brahms second Piano Concerto. Before we get to that rather weighty work however, we are treated to some lively and light-hearted works from Dvorak and Manuel de Falla.
Antonin Dvorak’s Carnival Overture is first up. A riot of orchestral colour – the percussionists’ rhythms brimming with life – Dvorak’s work is meant to evoke the carnival sounds of a party in full swing. This evenings performance of it never quite fulfils its early promise – despite some spirited playing, Schiffman and the orchestra remain somewhat reserved throughout.
Continuing in the same dramatic vein, Falla’s Suites 1 & 2 from The Three Cornered Hat are exuberant, with the orchestra coming to life. From the opening with the trumpets and percussion, the music is bright and lively, snatches of Spanish rhythm and melodies throughout. Schiffman comes to life somewhat, although he is never the showiest of conductors.
The real highlight of the evening comes with Antti Siirala’s performance. Brahms Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-Flat is a mesmerising, complex piece – Siirala bringing an impassioned intensity in his playing to match. His stool pushed back from his piano as he leans over the keyboard, he has a strong presence on stage – a look of fierce concentration that never breaks during the length of the piece.
Demanding a technical virtuosity, his playing is never dry, and the orchestra throughout provides a warm and sensitive support. The opening movement, beginning with a horn solo answered by the piano, before the whole orchestra fills in the main theme, sets the tone for the rest of the work – balancing tenderness and drama, the whole comes together well.
From the first to the last, there is little respite for the pianist – after the passion of the first movement, the second movement scherzo is just as passionate. The third movement is calmer, more pensive, the cello lyrical and warm, although Siirala never lessens his intensity. Marked grazioso, or graceful, the final movement combines tender moments with fiery intensity, before the final rousing crescendo. While Schiffman may be in control of the whole, all eyes are on Siirala as he completes a strong performance of a powerful work.
Dvorak – Carnival Overture
Falla – The Three Cornered Hat Suites 1 & 2
Brahms – Piano Concerto No. 2 in B-Flat Major