Irish orchestra makes rough-edged debut in Russian program

By Greg Stepanich

In the lobby you could learn about tourism packages to the Emerald Isle, and in the program, there was a letter of welcome from the Irish president herself. In the fourth concert of 49 it is presenting on a debut U.S.  tour, the Dublin Philharmonic Orchestra came to the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach on Wednesday afternoon with, interestingly enough, an all-Russian program.

 The Irish orchestra acquitted itself reasonably well, but it will take more work before it can be ranked with the world’s top ensembles. Soloing with the orchestra was the Dublin-born pianist Peter Tuite, who was heard in the Second Piano Concerto of Dmitri Shostakovich. The composer wrote it in 1957 for his teenage son Maxim, and while it’s not among the most challenging pieces in the literature, it’s compact, colorful and appealingly melodic.

Tuite is an able technician with a sensitive touch who rattled off the familiar Shostakovich musical militarisms of the first movement with admirable accuracy, and played the beautiful second movement with restrained, tasteful poetry. Conductor Derek Gleeson and the orchestra accompanied well, but Gleeson began the work too mushily; the little staccato march with which the concerto opens demands a crisp, lightfooted approach it didn’t get here.

The concert opened with the Ruslan and Ludmila Overture of Mikhail Glinka, a good test of orchestral virtuosity. The Dublins have a very strong string section, particularly the first and second violins that handled the showy main theme with aplomb, and are the best thing about the orchestra in general.
But the brass section, and the horns especially, were having a bad day that showed itself first in the Glinka with a flubbed rising-triad motif before the cadence.

 Things got no better as the concert went on, and for a brassy work such as the Tchaikovsky Fourth Symphony, it turned out to be a big drawback. The symphony, after all, begins with one of the most famous theme statements in the late Romantic literature, announced on horns. Here it was announced with a splatter, and while the horn (and trumpet) playing wasn’t noticeably weak for the whole work, it got to the point that one anticipated major entrances with a wince and a prayer.

Aside from the unreliable brass work, the Tchaikovsky was hampered somewhat by Gleeson’s inconsistent tempi. He slowed down too much for the main section of the first movement, which became plain when it got to the celebrated Italianate portion of the movement and time seemed to crawl rather than linger as violins drifted over timpani.

Much the same thing happened in the finale, which was too pokey after the opening and lost the tension and drive that makes the music effective.  In the third movement, too, Gleeson slowed down after the opening pizzicato section for the winds and brass (who played messily), which again robbed the piece of any sense of forward motion.

There were many good things about the performance, such as fine wind soloing by oboe and bassoon in the doleful second movement and excellent string playing throughout.  But as a whole it was a Tchaikovsky that kept losing momentum, which is problematic for music of this highly emotional character. Probably because they were playing again in Stuart that same night and needed to get on the road, the Dublin Philharmonic offered no encore. 

Clearly the group’s managers want the orchestra to be seen as an all-purpose classical band, not just a representative of its nation, but with all the official Irishness accompanying the tour, it would have been nice to hear something local, too: Maybe one of the Irish Rhapsodies of Charles Villiers Stanford, who after all was born in Dublin.

Posted in Performances

3 Responses to “Irish orchestra makes rough-edged debut in Russian program”

  1. Posted Jan 20, 2009 at 5:44 pm by bill ball

    This is an Irish orchestra in name only, It is a freelance band consisting of mainly Bulgarian players who play for a much lower fee than there western European counterparts. The players are booked for this tour and may never play with this orchestra again. There is probably only a handful of players who have ever set foot in Dublin. This is giving fine Irish classical musicians a bad name.
    There are 4 full time professional orchestras in Ireland. The Ulster Orchestra in Belfast, Northern Ireland, The RTE Concert Orchestra in Dublin, The RTE National Symphony Orchestra also in Dublin. This is the largest orchestra on the Island and The Irish Chamber Orchestra.
    Please be aware of this fraud.


  2. Posted Jan 20, 2009 at 6:59 pm by bill ball

  3. Posted Jan 31, 2009 at 11:01 am by HB

    The Dublin orchestra playing here in Charlotte on Monday night. Thanks for the warnings. You saved me a lot of money. Nobody mentioned that the program is very short. In the old days, concerts could have over 100 minutes of music. This program has barely an hour.

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Thu Jan 15, 2009
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