Cork Concert Orchestra at Cork City Hall, on 10th February 2018

Few things warm the heart like the sight of a packed-out concert, and tonight Cork’s City Hall is, for want of a better word, abustle. Drawn by tonight’s enterprising programme, the crowd is surrounded by an aura of apprehensive excitement. This is understandable, as tonight’s concert marks the Cork premiere of not only Stravinsky’s notorious ‘Rite of Spring’, but indeed of every work we hear.

Over the course of the evening, Cork Concert Orchestra meets the varied challenges set by its programme. Alexander Mosolov’s Soviet-era work ‘The Iron Foundry’ is an arresting opening number, evoking sounds of heavy industry through vivid writing for tubas and trombones, and a clangorous (in the best possible way) turn from the percussion. Guest conductor Neil Thomson proves himself during the performance not to shy away from the occasional dramatic gesture, though loses out on that score to the marvellously synchronised horn section, the players rising to their feet as one at each entry.

Tcherepnin’s ‘The Enchanted Kingdom’ sees the dialing down of tempo and dynamics, but not of drama. Both orchestra and conductor seem more at ease here, guiding the audience through the alternately dreamy and nightmarish sonic landscapes, juxtaposing the bright timbres of harp and flute with the creeping oppression of a descending chromatic bassline. Although a fine work in its own right, it provides the perfect transition from the earlier cacophony of ‘The Iron Foundry’, through to the sobriety of the next work, Rachmaninov’s symphonic poem ‘The Isle of the Dead’. Maintaining the dramatic pacing of the preceding work, the ensemble expertly evokes the sombre yet fantastical journey, as Rachmaninov’s broken chordal writing for strings builds the impression of the rolling waters surrounding the titular isle. Funereal at times—Rachmaninov notably riffs on the dies irae motif—the work is not devoid of fun: the rising climax in the latter half is punctuated with blasts from brass section, timpani rolls, and a marvelous change of texture with the resurgence of the dies irae in the strings.

‘The Rite of Spring’ got off a little on the wrong foot (and we’re not talking Diaghilev’s choreography here). The iconic, meandering opening sees the bassoon meander a little too much, lending the introduction a feeling of imbalance that, at first, seems not to bode well for the closing performance of the night. However, uncertainty gives way to cohesion in the Augurs of Spring, the ticking pizzicato of the strings providing a rhythmic anchor to the meandering woodwind. Once pulled together to form a not only a unified, but impressive front, the orchestra handle the remainder of the work with aplomb and enthusiasm. This evening’s concert offers a tour de force for the orchestra’s percussionists, rising admirably to the demands of both ‘The Iron Foundry’ and ‘The Rite of Spring’. The final work’s progress sees a steady rise in orchestral energy, urged on by Thomson’s increasingly dramatic gestures. By the end of the concert, we not only feel overwhelmed by the thunderous finale, but hungry for more.

 

Programme:

Mosolov – The Iron Foundry

Tcherepnin – The Enchanted Kingdom

Rachmaninov – The Isle of the Dead

Stravinsky – The Rite of Spring

 

Images by Donagh Glavin

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