The RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra with Pascal & Ami Rogé at the National Concert Hall, March 20 2015

French conductor Jean-Luc Tingaud first conducted the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra in 2013, but between then and tonight’s concert he has already been back to record two CDs of French music (Dukas and Bizet) for Naxos with the orchestra, to critical acclaim. Tingaud beats in a passionately larger-than-life style, but his melodramatic outlook on the music being played seems sincere and the orchestra produce detailed, pristine performances of this varied programme of French masters.

The opener, the slow-burning Love Scene from Berlioz’s Roméo et Juliette, comes across as a single length of sonic fabric, stretched taut by the end. Berlioz at his best, and beautifully played. What comes next is very disappointing. Pascal Rogé is one of the most revered interpreters of French piano music, and in his partnership with his wide Ami Rogé for Mozart’s Concerto for Two Pianos in E flat, K.365, it often sounds as if neither the conductor nor the pianists have ever heard a performance of a Mozart piece before. Truly awkward playing and nonsensical phrasing are compounded by a notably unsynchronised pair of soloists, and quite a few wrong notes.

In fairness to the Rogé’s, they make amends in the second half of the concert with a scintillating rendition of Poulenc’s Concerto for Two Pianos in D minor. This piece bulges with the sort of highly dramatic orchestral writing you would expect in a Mahler symphony rather than in a French piano concerto, and its second movement precipitates minimalism and modern film music with extraordinary sections of stasis, reptition and lyricism (all handled with brilliance by the soloists). The orchestra launch into this fiendishly difficult music with venom and joy, and the playing is magnificent.

Ravel’s Bolero closes the concert by offering almost every wind and brass player terrifying solos. Richard O’Donnell’s snare drum at the opening is dangerously close to silent but still played with perfect evenness and precision, and he drives the entire piece (a unique test of coolness and concentration) with a solidity that allows Tingaud to stop beating for long periods and engage in disco moves (almost falling into the cello section at the climax). A thrilling performance, and the orchestra deservedly enjoys the unanimous standing ovation it elicits.


Berlioz – Roméo et Juliette Love Scene
Mozart – Concerto for Two Pianos in E flat, K.365
Poulenc – Concerto for Two Pianos in D minor
Ravel – Boléro