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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: November 13, 2008 @ 10:22 am

    Reviews: Leonard, Johnston, OSC/Daniel – NCH, Dublin

    Fiona McCann

    Bach – Concerto for Oboe and Violin.

    Mendelssohn – Violin Concerto.

    Elgar – Serenade for strings; Cello Concerto.

    The Orchestra of St Cecilia strayed well outside the norms of orchestral programme planning for the second of its November concerts at the National Concert Hall.

    With three concertos on offer rather than the more conventional one, this was an evening that managed to begin and end with concertos and offered just a single non-concertante work, Elgar’s Serenade for Strings, as a makeweight at the beginning of the second half.

    Violinist Catherine Leonard featured in both works in the first half, partnered by Nicholas Daniel (who was also the evening’s conductor) in a reconstruction of a Concerto for Oboe and Violin by Bach, and having the limelight to herself in Mendelssohn’s Concerto in E minor.

    Her playing in both works was light and nimble, although the lightness was not always to the music’s advantage.

    There was a strange lack of definition in the Bach, as if the overall sound picture was slightly out of focus, an effect that was fully dismissed only when Nicholas Daniel engaged in some moments of full-on expression.

    Leonard’s playing took some time to settle down in the Mendelssohn, most of the first movement in fact.

    It wasn’t really until after the cadenza that her mercurial musicality seemed to find its stride.

    Daniel’s lean and sharply accented handling of the orchestra may have deprived the music of some of its warmth, but it also had an adaptability which seemed to give Leonard free rein in her often impetuous and sometimes even skittish approach to the work.

    Elgar’s Serenade for Strings and Cello Concerto are pieces often milked for more than they can actually yield. This performance avoided that pitfall.

    Admittedly, there was a certain expressive anaemia in the Serenade, and Guy Johnston’s reserve in the concerto may not have satisfied listeners who like cellists to take a heart-on-sleeve approach to this piece.

    Yet his playing lacked for nothing in nobility, and he brought to the concerto a sense of sometimes profound resignation which more than compensated for those moments where the pallor seemed too consistent.

    The audience was well-attuned to his message, and gave his performance the warmest response of the evening. MICHAEL DERVAN

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