sat 13/07/2024

Skride, National Symphony Orchestra, Matheuz, National Concert Hall, Dublin - musical philosophies soar | reviews, news & interviews

Skride, National Symphony Orchestra, Matheuz, National Concert Hall, Dublin - musical philosophies soar

Skride, National Symphony Orchestra, Matheuz, National Concert Hall, Dublin - musical philosophies soar

Collegial soloist, focused conductor and inspired orchestra ignite Bernstein and Strauss

Baiba Skride embodies seven ancient Greek diners in Bernstein's Serenade after Plato's SymposiumMarco Borggreve

Promising on paper, dazzling in practice: with a superlative soloist and conductor, this programme just soared on wings of philosophy-into-music. The spotlighting of NSO co-leader Elaine Clark provided another thread, from the opening chant of Linda Buckley‘s Fall Approaches through the keen dialogues with collegial Baiba Skride in Bernstein’s dazzling Serenade to the Viennese-waltz Dance Song of Strauss’s Also sprach Zarathustra.

Clark's fellow strings joined her – the violinist pictured below – in a flight brilliantly marshalled and focused by Diego Matheuz, due to conduct next Friday's Beethoven programme and replacing the National Symphony Orchestra's indisposed Chief Conductor Jaime Martín. One day I'll get to hear the orchestra and its transformer together, but this was no second best: Matheuz, a graduate like Gustavo Dudamel of Venezuela's El Sistema, is world-class (he's conducting Carmen at the Met this season). Richard Strauss's poetical response to Nietzsche's Thus Spake Zarathustra has been a regular on concert programmes recently – I had to miss Pappano's take on it with the LSO last week, though I did witness the National Youth Orchestra, the LPO and the Philharmonia play it of late, and this took the crown of the ones I heard. Elaine ClarkLiving with Strauss is a strange thing: sometimes he leaves me cold, as if all that orchestral virtuosity lives only on the surface; at others I'm lost in amazement at the depths and strangeness of his invention, as was the case with this Zarathustra.. Which is surely the strangest of all the symphonic poems; no wonder Bartók turned back to composing after hearing its Budapest premiere. Even the familiar was extraordinary on Friday night: how well graded the threefold trumpet invocation of the sunrise after the novel rumbling from the hall's fine organ and double basses, how shattering the climax (the National Concert Hall acoustics seem excellent to me, never harsh in the many loud climaxes, especially good for the prominent strings in the first half with resonant bass lines). Too many conductors, Strauss himself included, rush a lot of the incandescence, but Matheuz allowed space for the burgeoning string hymn, pauses for breath in a magnificent "Joys and Passions" sequence, airy ecstasy when the violins finally cut loose from the 12-note fugue depicting the mechanisms of science and fly into the stratosphere. This was an orchestra on world-class form.

An attentive audience of all ages, with plenty of students taking advantage of special offers, allowed Matheuz (pictured below) to hold on to the long pause after the thunderous centrepoint, and then we were off into ecstatic human realms, led by Clark and the multi-divided strings, but warmly lined by the brass. The final lullaby, B major heights challenged by C major nature, was more magical than I've ever heard it. Diego MatheuzSo we returned to silence, out of which the first notes of Buckley's Icelandic-inspired chant began the concert on solo violin (Clark's). This is a string piece adapted from the original for choir and electronics (I'd love to hear that, since the poem is so striking in its ambivalent approach to coming winter darkness). Rhythmic kicks to single notes keep the minimalism from sleepiness, and the world wakes up to wonder at the light from above just before the end.

You could call this the philosophy of the ancients, but that was more literally the provenance of the talkers in Plato's Symposium, joining hands with second-half Nietzsche. Bernstein's only violin concerto is a masterpiece, and would be much more often played if named as such. But Serenade is fair in its distribution of ideas between soloist, fellow strings and percussion; here the most moving stretch was the ensemble build in the wondrous Adagio for Agathon before cadenza-like writing for the violin.

There is profundity here and at the start of the finale, but Baiba Skride showed the fun, too, making the helter-skelter fugue-scherzo depicting Eryximachus seem effortless. Everything is here – Stravinsky in the second movement, Britten in some of the later stages – but like all geniuses, Bernstein stamps his own identity on material that metamorphoses throughout the piece, in a songfulness hardly light years away from West Side Story. Which, it should be noted, takes its final irreconcilable clash of "Somewhere" keys as Maria grieves over Tony from the end of Also sprach Zarathustra. Only connect – and this concert did, superbly.

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