Irish Chamber Orchestra presents The Magic of Marwood at the RDS Concert Hall, Thursday 16th October

In a week where worrying news coming down from Belfast hinted at a financial ultimatum for the Ulster Orchestra, it was thoroughly refreshing to attend a performance of one of Ireland’s steadier professional orchestras, the Irish Chamber Orchestra. As part of their current season, each month sees a new programme presented in two concerts at different ends of Ireland. October marks the return of a former Artistic Director in violinist Anthony Marwood, featured in a performance of J.S. Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 and Concerto for Violin and Oboe in C minor. In addition, Marwood arranged a version of Enescu’s Octet in C Major for performance by the full string orchestra. Set in the balanced acoustic of the RDS Concert Hall, the performers demonstrated a unique brand of passionate yet intelligent musicianship rarely found on the Irish classical music scene.

To begin, a stripped-down Irish Chamber Orchestra and soloist Marwood are joined by the two recorder soloists Laoise O’Brien and Kamala Bain for the Brandenburg Concerto No. 4. The recorder solos are skillfully performed, but it is clear from the outset that Anthony Marwood will be the central figure, the sound of his violin carrying over the entire ensemble with ease. When the Concerto for Violin and Oboe in C Minor is performed, the charismatic oboist Daniel Bates gives as good as he got from Marwood, the duo making a memorable pair on the stage. The performances are tight, the tempi generally within an accepted range, and aside from the period instruments of the soloists, the performances are fresh and modern. An enjoyable first half, but the second half takes things to another level.

George Enescu (1881–1955), the Romanian-born composer and performer, showed prodigious talent from an early age; tonight’s Octet for Strings in C Major was written at the age of nineteen, when he had already been studying in Paris for four years under Massenet and Fauré. The Octet, in a similar manner to Mendelssohn’s youthful octet seventy-five years earlier, is brash and beating with a confidence which players revel in. From the moment the orchestra launch into Marwood’s arrangement, the virtuosity is relentless; heart-rates quicken right to the very back of the auditorium, and all thoughts of gentle baroque performance are lost. The second movement is perhaps the highlight, as spiky, abrasive figures act as fugal themes in an already highly complex texture. The viola parts, rather unusually, are to the fore for much of the piece’s melodic material, and are impeccably performed. The group dynamic is spectacular throughout the work, and with impossibly dramatic interpretation, Marwood leads the orchestra to a close.

The performance of Enescu’s Octet was very possibly one of the best performances that the RDS, if not the city, has seen for a considerable time. Every member of the Irish Chamber Orchestra is visibly impassioned in their movements, and are dedicated to a unified interpretation. The ‘Magic’ of Marwood is all over their performance, and the return of the Irish Chamber Orchestra to Dublin in November can’t come soon enough.


J. S. Bach: Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 in G Major BWV 1049

J. S. Bach: Concerto for Violin and Oboe in C Minor BWV 1060

Enescu: Octet for Strings in C Major Op. 7 (arr. Marwood)