It’s a big night for conductor John Wilson, as he performs his first concert with the RTÉ Concert Orchestra after having been named the new Principal Conductor Designate yesterday. With a rich history, including performances at the BBC Proms, as well as running his own orchestra, this man has experience beyond his years, and we’re certainly eager to see what he has in store for us.
A large crowd packs the house at the National Concert Hall for this night of ‘Essential Classics’, which includes some fine works by Dvorák, Beethoven, Dukas, Lehár and Tchaikovsky. Opening with the Carnival Overture by Dvorák, the evening begins with a bang. Boisterous, loud and unapologetic, the opening to Dvorák’s popular Overture certainly stirs the crowd to attention. Moving between the celebratory louder sections, and the gentle care and delicacy adopted with the movements to pianissimo, this piece is more than charming. Wilson leads his orchestra with an air of charm, the baton seeming to be but an extension of his arm as he guides the orchestra masterfully through this wonderful piece. Highly acclaimed pianist Danny Driver joins Wilson and the orchestra onstage for a performance of Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.5 in E Flat, ‘Emperor’, which was delivered with huge technical ability and a wonderful charisma, a joy to behold. Driver dips in and out of the orchestra with great ease, and brings to life this wonderful work by Beethoven.
A wonderful performance of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice by Dukas offers the highlight of the evening. Full of the animated charm and charisma for which it was intended, both Wilson and the concert orchestra should be immensely proud of this performance. Designed to depict the Goethe poem in which a wizard leaves his apprentice unattended in his workshop, the magical essence of this piece is truly brought to life, and manoeuvred through its life by the expert hands of Wilson. The quite rarely performed The Count of Luxembourg Waltzes by Lehár follows. This Strauss-inspired nineteenth/twentieth century composer is one that is not so commonly experienced, so what a pleasure it is to hear this selection of wonderful waltzes performed in Dublin. Light, airy and sweet, they are a treat for the ears, and a wonderful contrast against what is to follow.
The opening to Tchaikovsky’s 1812 overture is slow, reflective, and ever so slightly melancholy. However, the loud sections depicting warfare are extremely powerful, and brought forth with the confidence of Wilson as he encourages the orchestra to let loose through. It’s big, strong, and almost violent in parts as the sense of warfare is established (minus the live ammunition, such as cannon fire that would traditionally accompany a performance of the work), and is the perfect way to end a wonderful night of music.
Tonight’s show is a testament to what’s to come for the RTÉ Concert Orchestra – with Wilson preparing to take over as principal conductor, there’s a lot more shows like this to expect. Lively, animated and hugely enjoyable, Wilson and the RTÉ Concert Orchestra offered us a concert of true classics, a wonderful collection of pieces easy to sit back and enjoy in the wonderful settings of the National Concert Hall.