The steps leading to the National Concert Hall were buzzing with people enjoying the sunshine, waiting for the lunchtime concert with the RTE National Symphony Orchestra featuring trumpet player Niall O’Sullivan. The queue for tickets was out the main door, by the time the orchestra were coming on stage the hall was full to capacity. Bright colours abounded, the orchestra’s usual formal tuxedos exchanged for more casual attire, allowing a relaxed atmosphere and less adherence to the usual concert hall etiquette.
Opening with a lively rendition of Handel’s ‘Arrival of the Queen of Sheeba’ from the oratorio Solomon, the orchestra warmed into the concert with a show of the woodwind’s flexibility and overall lightness, Andrew Mogrelia’s ballet-influenced emotive conducting shaped the music, drawing the audience in with his gestures, linking the aural and visual to great effect.
O’Sullivan took to the stage for Handel’s Suite in D for Trumpet and Orchestra. After the context of the piece was explained by Lyric FM’s Niall Carroll, the soloist gained immediate command, his light sound on the piccolo trumpet carrying over the orchestra with a typical Baroque feel. After an electric rendition of Rossini’s The Silken Ladder overture with arresting strings, O’Sullivan returned with the Haydn Trumpet Concerto. His performance brought a relatable, contemporary life to the piece with the hints of vibrancy in his sound that must have originated in his musical upbringing with the Artane Boys’ Band.
The Finale from Prokofiev’s ‘Classical’ Symphony no.1 formed a link from the classical world to more recent styles, and allowed O’Sullivan a break after the taxing Suite and Concerto. Mogrelia brought out the contemporary elements from the midst of the traditional classical surroundings, exaggerating his gestures to get the most from the orchestra. The ensemble responded well, and proved well capable to bring energy and suspense to the finale, even without the build up of the first three movements.
Argentinian Piazzola’s Libertango, arranged for trumpet and orchestra, made a fantastic contrast to the similarly arranged Schubert’s Ave Maria, both recorded on O’Sullivan’s 2011 self-titled album. The Ave Maria was gentle and laid back, showcasing the trumpeter’s ability to manage a smooth, romantic tone and just the occasional hint of vibrato. The Piazzola rounded off the concert superbly, the largest ensemble piece of the afternoon and by far the most flamboyant—it was so entertaining that certain audience members could be seen dancing in their seats, and there were smiles all around. O’Sullivan’s tone went back to bright and commanding, with agility and precise articulation giving him freedom for stylistic expression. With the energy exuding from the Mogrelia, O’Sullivan and the entire orchestra, it was no wonder that the concert finished with a standing ovation.
This concert and its reception goes to show that with the right mix of a varied programme and showcasing home-grown international talent, the National Concert Hall can still draw a massive crowd. Usual Friday night concerts given by the RTE NSO comprise of typical orchestral standards, grouped by period. On first glance this would seem the logical approach to programming in a country with seemingly little taste for contemporary sounds, but having seen the popularity of mixed programming on nights with foreign orchestras and exceptional events such as this lunchtime concert, one hopes that there will be more of the same in future! It’s no wonder the audience loved Carroll’s comment that we could “take a piece of Niall home” by buying a CD for O’Sullivan’s signing after the concert—and indeed many excitedly joined the queue in foyer when the time came. Andrew Mogrelia, the orchestra and particularly Niall O’Sullivan presented what National Concert Hall regulars will definitely remember as a highlight of the year.