UCD Symphony Orchestra: A Russian Festival At The National Concert Hall
Starting with Glinka’s ‘Overture’, the night began with a surprisingly fast and controlled start, each voice of the orchestra keeping a remarkable control at such speed, while maintaining such delicate lightness throughout. This did sadly play against them at points, with some climaxes falling a tad flat, but issues of inaccuracy and lack of dynamic variance soon subsided as all performers really embraced their performance, especially the percussion. An impressively well-coordinated timeshift and a truly gorgeous climax ended the first movement of the night with a patchy but admirable start.
Tchaikovsky’s ‘Entr’acte and Waltz’ was the first piece of the night with UCD Philharmonic Choir. After an elegant introduction with all issues in the strings from last time replaced with impressive control, the percussion section kept up an incredibly strong performance and brass held a sombre rein on the energy. While drowned out by the orchestra somewhat, especially the poor altos, the feeling of awe was noticeable. The cello section did struggle with some of the more absurd jumps in the music, something their principal cellist Eoin Hammond saw after as rather consistent with rehearsals. Nonetheless, a strong performance overall, with relief soon coming with pure divinity in harmony from the UCD choir. With an intense build and development remaining constant, a tremendous finale cleared the air to make way for the highlight of the evening.
Shostakovich’s ‘Piano Concerto No.2’ is quite a beast to tackle. None of it is easy by any stretch, and the second movement is one of the most famous romantic pieces of all time. This was not to be a problem for the orchestra nor its soloist, Dylan Browne, who entered the first movement with vigour to the point of almost rushing ahead at parts. An out-of-tune brass section, unfortunately, a chronic issue of the night, reared its head here; other sections were able to cover this, with pleasantly light strings and woodwind. Browne’s own performance was highly impressive, executing incredibly complex patterns with perfection while carrying a wonderful lurch between chaos and order.
As the famous second movement began, cellos and violas barged for attention with a stunningly melancholic introduction. Browne’s interpretation of the piano’s melody here was interesting, being far more rigid than this piece is normally played, but it remained sublime. The orchestra seemed to lose itself a bit here- odd time changes, a horn that was far too loud during a moment of silence, and one cello sadly going out of tune halfway through. As the movement progressed, the moment of reawakening was clearly felt and understood well by all performers, leading to a slightly fast and almost stilted ending which nonetheless did justice to this monument of a piece.
For the third movement, Browne moved back into his more comfortable territory of incredible dexterity with brio- the orchestra just barely keeping up behind him. To give you an impression, my partner wrote on my notes “Jesus Christ, this guy is good at piano”. When asked what he felt went best about the concert afterwards, conductor Crilly responded first with “Dylan”. While more issues plagued the brass section, as a horn once too loud now was so muffled and quiet it verged on parody and a snare drum that was about an eighth note too late consistently, the woodwind managed to come through remarkably strong to alleviate this; a feature noticed and pointed out to me by principal flautist, Eoin Fallon. With a sudden and incredibly powerful ending from Browne, the concerto was over and future career for the first-time soloist materialised in front of the audience’s eyes.
Returning from an interval, the orchestra had not tuned for some reason, resulting in an unpleasantly out-of-tune brass section for Prokofiev’s ‘Dance of the Knights’. Powerful strings and a forceful boom from the brass did somewhat conceal this, but issues in timing in woodwind and strings projected a lack of confidence that saw them eke to a decent ending.
Moving to another Tchaikovsky, ‘the Marche Slave’, the audience saw the conductor shine with a lovely build of heaviness to triumph with crashes of pure excellence. While questionable slowing was implemented once again, the building of tension was palpable until the final boom of the brass came through beautifully only for the tuning to slip once again with the trumpets. Timing issues soon followed with the rebuilding of tension for the ending, but the overall military force of the piece came through in spades.
For Khachaturian’s ‘Adagio’, many of the same themes from before reemerged- a slightly flat brass section, impressive and emotional solo performances, strong builds and a couple of small timing issues. This last issue did lead to a confusing directionless atmosphere to the piece but it was mitigated by a group of performers who got through just by being good at what they do. The next piece, ‘Sabre Dance’, was remarkably different and clearly better prepared for. Percussion and brass co-operated beautifully and, while one flat cello undermined their elegant melody line, the synchronisation of the orchestra as a whole was wonderful, especially for such a fast piece.
The audience breathed a sigh of relief that all sections had tuned for Borodin’s ‘Polovtsian Dances’, the grand finale. This was by far the strongest performance of the evening and a worthy end to the night. The choir made a reappearance, acting in beautiful unity with the orchestra with a feeling of awe returning in full. The strings section, in particular, came into its own here, with stiff competition from the percussion and brass, leaving the choir at parts struggling to match the orchestra’s intensity. With a beautiful and intense ending, UCD’s own orchestra and choir had not only sold out the National Concert Hall but was met with a standing ovation lasting long enough to make me miss my bus.
After the show, I was able to talk to many figures from the orchestra but by far the most interesting of them all was the one who said the least and had no titles or awards- an oboist named Hugh. Hugh was red in the face when I saw him from both exertion and the heat of the stage lights, struggling to speak to me in full sentences from fatigue, and looked like he could use a drink. All the same, he rejoiced to me: the show had gone superbly, far better than it had in rehearsals, as he saw it, and he was nothing short of ecstatic for how many had come out (although more students would have been nice). With this in mind, I can only commend Hugh’s thoughts on the matter as well as art as a whole- no matter the imperfections, the energy and drive behind the performance was undeniable. Few slacked, none skimped on any responsibilities. These performers should be proud of their performance just as UCD is proud of them.
By Iain Clowes – Music Writer