Ivan Monighetti and the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra at the National Concert Hall, Thursday 13th February.

The RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra are at their best tonight in this concert of Russian music under the baton of principal conductor Alan Buribayev. The evening begins with Tchaikovsky’s Hamlet Fantasy, Overture after Shakespeare. This is an expansive work which is, based on this performance, unjustly neglected compared to Tchaikovsky’s more famous (and more Valentine’s week appropriate) overture after Romeo and Juliet. The most striking aspect of this piece on first hearing is the bombastic brass writing, and the trumpets and trombones have a field day with it here. There can’t be many orchestras with a better trombone section than the RTÉ NSO, whose power bring up goosebumps in the extended fanfares of this piece. Their tuning on the final solemn chord is perfect, beautifully avoiding a dangerous trap.

More superb brass playing comes in Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto No. 1, where the whole section leave the stage save for the principal horn. Fergus O’Carroll’s playing is not only entirely accurate, but is strikingly beautiful. The horn part in this extraordinary piece plays a terrifying, exposed rhetoric role and it completes the piece in this performance. This is one of the great pinnacles of the cello repertoire, written for Rostropovich, and it pushes the instrument to extraordinary extremes. The one criticism of soloist Ivan Monighetti would be that he seems almost too comfortable with the music in the first movement, perhaps robbing the music of a little of its urgency and menace. Shostakovich strings together the entire monolithic movement from a series of short, abrasive motifs; such strange music, and so compelling. Monighetti’s playing is stunning in the haunting second movement and jaw-dropping in the third, a cadenza which bridges the slow movement and the finale.

After the interval we are treated to a work much more appropriate to the season, Rachmaninov’s Symphony No. 1 in D minor. This symphony is perhaps not quite as soaringly passionate as the composer’s second, but it is beautiful, unconventional and, at times, incredibly exciting. The piece takes the unusual and risky step of loading the slower music to the beginning (and middle), and saving the walloping fast bits for the very end. The risky side of this is that if everything goes badly the audience will be fast asleep by the time the artillery (in the shape of a battery of percussion and more virtuoso brass) come out and won’t hear it anyway. Thankfully, this doesn’t happen tonight, and when the blistering fourth movement arrives it is cataclysmic.

The Russian repertoire from this concert, particularly the heart on sleeve romanticism of the Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov, suits Buribayev perfectly. He extracts the best from the orchestra tonight, with an eye for the dramatic flourish, and the crowd lap it up, responding instantaneously at the end of the symphony with (very continental) whoops of “Bravo”. The orchestra respond similarly: while we are used to seeing a mass of solemn faces as the NSO stand up at the end of a concert, tonight almost all of them are beaming.


Tchaikovsky – Hamlet Fantasy, Overture after Shakespeare
Shostakovich – Cello Concerto No. 1

Rachmaninov – Symphony No. 1 in d minor