Julian Bliss with the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra at the National Concert Hall, 17th April 2015.

In a week of uncharacteristic good weather, the RTE National Symphony Orchestra brought us a ‘A Touch of Frost’, celebrating the music of Nordic composers. The perceived irony of this concert title, however, turned out to be false; this was not to be a deep, chilling freeze, but instead a light and glistening frost that falls easily upon the ears.

The orchestra begin proceedings with Edvard Grieg’s crowd favourite Peer Gynt Suite no. 1. Under the baton of the assured David Brophy, the musicians deliver classy renditions of ‘Morning’ and ‘In the Hall of the Mountain King’. The melodic work is met with warmth from the crowd, and warm up they may, as what follows brings an unexpected intensity and virtuosity that no amount of Grieg could prepare you for.

Julian Bliss takes to the stage with a confidence and directness which never wavers throughout his performance of Carl Nielsen’s Clarinet Concerto. Written towards the end of the composer’s life, the work is rife with all the hallmarks of Nielsen’s orchestral music: melodies audibly derived from folk origins, dramatic sections which the snare drum dominates, and stacked fourths in the accompaniment. It is a startling work, emotionally ambiguous for long stretches of time, and yet the orchestral colour and virtuosity of Bliss’s playing keeps the National Concert Hall audience wholly engaged.

After the interval, the orchestra embark upon the epic Symphony no. 1 by Jean Sibelius. The heroic, noble sound that permeates naturally recalls Finlandia, although within the confines of a much more sophisticated composition. Once again the real beauty is in the orchestral colour, the touches of frost. This focus is evident from the sheer number of solo passages for different instruments, with the string section leaders and almost all of the wind section enjoying moments of prominence. Despite some challenging moments for the violins, the orchestra are very much on top of the work and respond well to Brophy’s nuances. The wind chorales of the final movement require particular acclaim.

A successful early summer’s evening is the feeling as the audience pour out onto the now not-so warm Earlsfort Terrace. It’s that kind of refreshing yet powerful concert that leaves touches of frost in the corners of our minds for days.


Grieg – Peer Gynt Suite no. 1

Nielsen – Clarinet Concerto

Sibelius – Symphony no. 1