Orchestral Solos with the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra at the National Concert Hall, 26 September 2014

Swiss conductor Stefan Blunier’s flamboyant, yet precise, and detailed stick-waving leads the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra in polished, expressive performances of Liszt, Schumann and Bartók.

The majestic, slow-burning, opening of Liszt’s Les préludes calls to mind Bruckner and Wagner, and leads to a thrilling early climax where the NSO’s outstanding brass section let rip to devastating effect. The piece is an overwhelming, exhausting wash of emotion and sound.

The stage is reset for Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A minor, and the unassuming soloist Leon Mc Cawley steps out. Mc Cawley’s playing is immaculate and sensitive, and both he and the orchestra seem to relish each other’s company – leading to an intimate performance that captures the chamber-music-like aspects of Schumann’s work. Unfortunately, some key moments in the final movement are dulled by slightly timid violin playing. Perhaps the strings were afraid of covering the soloist. In any case, it was not enough to mar a fabulous performance of the concerto.

Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra, written as the composer was in the early stages of the leukemia that would eventually end his life, has always been a party piece for this orchestra. They deliver a gleaming, and virtually flawless, performance of one of the most virtuosic works in the repertory. Some dazzling bassoon duets are among the particular highlights here.

It is a real shame that despite a very strong (and surely not inaccessible) programme, with a star soloist and a quality conductor, there are huge pockets of empty seats all around the auditorium. Hopefully progress can be made on this count. This performance is deserving of a full house, people are missing out!



Liszt: Les préludes
Schumann: Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 54
Bartók: Concerto for Orchestra