New Beginnings at the National Concert Hall, 13th of September 2013
Fear and exhilaration: thus began the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra’s 2013/2014 Season, with the world premiere of Ed Bennett’s Freefalling. Inspired by Felix Baumgartner’s jump from space, the Bangor born composer’s composition encapsulated all the senses and emotions someone not used to such death-defying feats might associate with the event: danger, excitement and at moments, absolute breathlessness.
Bennett’s use of brass cries and glissandi throughout the orchestra, particularly in the trombones, gave a sense of constant descent, which contrasted with the throbbing, keening strings and insistent pulse of the percussion that brought a tense momentum to the piece. As the music moved towards its climax the strings and brass began to alternate with increasing momentum, oscillating between moments of breathless silence, with frenzied interruptions by the percussion adding to the madness. The sudden questioning ending by the celli was yet another unexpected twist; perhaps Bennett was wondering why Baumgartner would choose to jump in the first place.
Another powerful opening, Freddy Kempf drew every possible ounce of richness into the opening chords of Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor from the National Concert Hall’s Steinway piano. The musician’s passion could never be doubted given his active approach to his performances—if only it was similarly acceptable for the audience to rock out in their seats as Kempf did on his stool, hair flying as he made his way through the more energetic passages. This energy could be heard in the music, both from himself and from the reaction of the ensemble, and it was no wonder the audience couldn’t sit still during the moments of silence between movements, but rather broke into applause to dispel energy and show gratitude.
The piano and orchestra exchanged bittersweet melodies in the second movement, flautist Ryan introducing the theme softly, managing a lush resonant tone, maintained and developed by Finucane on clarinet before passing it on. After the close of the adagio sostenuto Buribayev leaped straight into the allegro scherzando of the third movement, not leaving the audience any opportunity to applaud again. Kempf’s fiery passion once again made this performance stand out from most, the oft-heard music taking on a new life under his swift fingers.
Petrushka began with the sparkle of magic one would hope for. Buribayev, himself puppet-like as he led the orchestra through the complex work, was the embodiment of the ballet otherwise missing from the stage. The romantic interjections in the first tableau from the winds left something to be desired but overall the balance and sound of the orchestra has clearly benefited from Buribayev’s leadership. The strong presence of the tuba added colour missing in many performances, and each solo line was superbly performed.
As season openings go, this one sits among the best of them. With individual performances showing the talent available within the ensemble, collaborations with artists of such high caliber, and a leader and an orchestra that compliment each other so well, the night has promised great things for the year to come.