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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: November 18, 2008 @ 11:36 am

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

    Fiona McCann

    Mendelssohn – Hebrides Overture.

    Beethoven – Piano Concerto No 2.

    John Tavener – The Protecting Veil.

    Sophie Cashell, the young Irish pianist who won last year’s BBC2 Classical Star contest, joined the Orchestra of St Cecilia at the National Concert Hall for Beethoven’s Piano Concerto in B flat (the second to be published, but the first to be written). She played with youthful brio and seemed particularly at home in the effervescence of the finale.

    She delivered everything with an easy fluency. She’s not a player to linger, but rather one who likes to press forward, sometimes, as it were, shaving the corners a little bit or pressuring points of linkage.

    But this was by some distance the best performance I’ve yet heard from her, and she played with such directly appealing spirit that the animation and drive of her approach won the day.

    Conductor Nicholas Daniel, whose opening account of Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture was full of nice touches yet managed somehow to fall short in atmosphere, found a brio in the Beethoven to match the outgoing character of his soloist.

    The second half of the concert was given over to John Tavener’s The Protecting Veil, a cello concerto like none other in the repertoire. You only have to look at the composer’s opening and closing markings in the score to realise how unusual his aims are (“Transcendent, with awesome majesty” and “Like tears of the Mother of God”).

    Tavener’s “lyrical ikon in sound” has been a popular success since its premiere at the Proms in London in September 1989. The ongoing success, paradoxically, has a lot to do with a sound world – frequent use of high-lying, ecstatic cello writing, and battering chords from the string orchestra – which, while it sounds utterly unique, is a lot more adaptable than its Orthodox-flavoured language might suggest.

    Soloist Guy Johnston’s approach was on the reserved side, a lot more western in inflection than you will hear in the famous recording by Steven Isserlis. But Johnston cast a spell of his own, not least because he chose to eschew the excessive projection and bravura that so many cellists have brought to the work.

    He was partnered with colourful resourcefulness by Daniel and the players of the OSC.  MICHAEL DERVAN

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