Russian Rites: RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra at the National Concert Hall, May 29th 2015.

Nearby Forbidden Fruit may be raging into the night, but that doesn’t stop young and old alike descending onto the National Concert Hall for one of the biggest programmes to hit the stage in recent memory. Russian Rites is a celebration of some of the most explosive music of the last 150 years: Ravel’s arrangement of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition and Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring.

Opening the concert with a more personal touch, conductor Alan Buribayev introduces ‘Folk Dances from Abai’, composed by his great-grandfather Achmed Zhubanov with Latif Hamidi. The Kazakhstai music sets the scene for the night, moving between dramatic flourishes and more subtle, scenic moments effectively. The emotive element are emphasised as Buribayev gives his all, clearly proud to present his family’s music alongside his recently adopted musical family, the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra.

While occasionally Buribayev’s penchant for ignoring standard tempi can throw a piece awry, when it comes to Pictures, the driving force from his interpretation propels the music forward, creating a unity between the movements that is sometimes lost. Contrasting this drive, an almost sensual use of delicately changing dynamics keeps the piece from becoming tired and allows tension to build throughout. Highlights from an ever-impressive work include incredible woodwind agility in ‘Tuileries’, the sweetness of the euphonium in ‘Bydlo’ and, of course, the nearly earth-shattering finale of the ‘Great Gate of Kiev’.

Usually a piece requiring the kind of stamina demanded in Pictures would be given pride of place in a programme, but not so tonight. From dramatic flair to inexorable tension, we move onto Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. There may not be any danger of riots tonight, but the Rite is just as effective today as it was for the premiere in 1913. Without staging the ballet, the music is allowed to speak for itself. Rarely performed in Ireland, we were always in for a treat, the only concern being the orchestra’s energy levels. Thankfully they are up to the task and the performance is on a level with any of the great European orchestras. From the first haunting echo of the bassoon to the last dying call we are transported to the shifting, twisted world of Stravinsky’s sacrifice.

Leaving the Hall is like coming out of a trance. To return to the grandeur of the red carpets and chandeliers of the foyer is jolting – though made somewhat easier by the reception in honour of the launch of the 2015-2016 programme. To see the RTÉ National Symphony orchestra, under the baton of Buribayev, present a programme of this nature in its home is truly inspiring; testament to the hard work and passion from everyone working both onstage and behind the scenes. Hopefully next year’s programme will continue the growth of the ensemble and see further recognition of the musical talent to be found in the classical scene in the Republic.

Forbidden Fruit, eat your heart out.



Zhubanov & Hamidi – Folk Dances from Abai
Mussorgsky (arr. Ravel) – Pictures at an Exhibition
Stravinsky – The Rite of Spring