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  • irishtimes.com - Posted: November 18, 2008 @ 11:37 am

    Reviews: Cooney, RTÉ NSO/ Altschuler – NCH, Dublin

    Fiona McCann

    Smetana – Vltava. Dvorák – Violin Concerto. Tchaikovsky – Symphony No 6.

    A packed house for this concert by the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra attested to the enduring appeal of a mainstream programme. On offer were a tone-poem, a concerto and a symphony, all dating from the last three decades of the 19th century.

    Both multi-movement works, however, included assertive departures from tradition. In his Violin Concerto, Dvorák took a much-disputed shortcut to the central adagio, while Tchaikovsky bewildered the first hearers of his Pathétique symphony by placing its adagio last.

    There was thus nothing blameworthy about two outbreaks of unscheduled applause. The first was prompted by a glowing account of Dvorák’s slow movement by Cork-born soloist Elizabeth Cooney, who – in spite of an orchestral accompaniment that was consistently too solid – went on to make a fine showing of upbeat virtuosity in the finale. The second was an involuntary response to Tchaikovsky’s stirring scherzo, and was nipped in the bud when conductor Vladimir Altschuler segued into the adagio finale.

    Altschuler’s concern for continuity – which had rather downplayed the changes of atmosphere in Smetana’s Vltava – had mixed effects on the symphony.

    On the one hand, the first movement’s tempestuous contrasts were uncommonly cogent, and the gait of the 5/4 waltz was engagingly asymmetrical. On the other hand, though the finale was articulated with atypical clarity, its eloquent silences were too quickly brushed aside, as if the threat of premature plaudits would not go away.

    It is in the nature of Tchaikovsky’s last tragic testament to ignite a noisy ovation after the scherzo, and provoke a pause for reflection after the finale. Regrettably, concert-hall etiquette dictates otherwise. ANDREW JOHNSTONE

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