RTE ConTempo Quartet, RTE NSO Cello Section and Raphael Wallfisch at Dun Laoighaire Rathdown International Cello Festival Concert, St. Paul’s Church, February 20th 2016.

The Saturday night concert of the Dun Laoghaire-Rathdown International Cello Festival came at the centre of a long weekend for the event. On the back of a successful first venture over a year ago, the festival returned with cello masterclasses for promising young players, delivered by three players of exceptional experience and renown: Martin Johnson, the festival’s founder and Principal cellist with the RTE National Symphony Orchestra; Adrian Mantu, Cellist with the RTE ConTempo String Quartet; and Raphael Wallfisch, one of the most celebrated cellists on the worldwide stage today. In addition to these masterclasses, this concert presented a line-up with many of Ireland’s top professional string players, and it certainly gave the budding cellists in attendance something to aspire towards.

Set in the resonant acoustic of St. Paul’s Church, the concert features a compelling programme of works ranging from classical to modern. The opening half is given over to a performance of Schoenberg’s early string sextet Verklarte Nacht, performed by the RTE ConTempo String Quartet, along with Adele Johnson and Martin Johnson. The opening bars are so quiet that some can scarcely be sure the concert has started; but once the piece opens up, the audience is wrapped up in the rich chromaticism and virtuosic playing of the performers. Bogdan Sofei gives a stirring performance as first violin.

After a short break, the cello section of the RTE National Symphony Orchestra spread themselves across the stage, preparing to perform a unique arrangement of Haydn’s Cello Concerto in C Major. The soloist, Raphael Wallfisch, is dazzling right from the opening theme. It is easy to see why he is one of the most recorded cellists of the last fifty years; it is the mark of a true genius when the notoriously difficult is made seem effortless. The arrangement is generally well executed too by the eight cello orchestra, and the slow middle movement in particular seems to sit just right with the dense, caramel-like texture of the ensemble.

Finally, there is light relief in the form of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, arranged for the cello octet, as waves of cheerfulness spread through the audience. If one were to look to criticize, then perhaps for the serious musician the sounds of Queen directly after such high-quality performances of two masterful classical works is jarring; for most, however, it is what it is – while also serving as a reminder of the versatility of the cello. After a lengthy applause there is time for an encore, Por Una Cabeza, and the audience leave more than satisfied with their evening’s entertainment.

The Dun Laoighaire-Rathdown International Cello Festival, despite being still a relatively new venture, can only be a positive force in bringing on a new generation of young Irish cello players. This exquisite concert demonstrated the highest standard of classical performance, and it is hoped that the festival will become a regular fixture on the classical calendar.


Arnold Schoenberg: Verklarte Nacht Op. 4

Joseph Haydn: Cello Concerto in C Major Hob.VIIb/1

Queen: ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’