Zilberstein, RTÉ NSO/Buribayev
NCH, Dublin ***Travelogues of various kinds made up this concert by the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra, and that point was driven home in a 10-minute rostrum preamble from principal conductor Alan Buribayev.
A thread of Middle Eastern exoticism linked Grieg’s well-loved Peer Gynt suites with the rather more recherché Piano Concerto No 5 by Saint-Saëns, a work whose spice-filled central movement earned it the nickname “Egyptian”.
Prokofiev’s Symphony No 4, in its original and more compact version from 1930, made for a less obvious bedfellow. But much of it was ransacked from the composer’s ballet score The Prodigal Son, the subject of which served as a personal metaphor during long years spent as a Russian émigré in the West.
Whether or not it was the intention for every last note to stand out, this usually approachable little symphony made hard listening. At the outset, the string accompaniments were a persistent distraction from the woodwind melody. And the subtle shades of the Andante tranquillo refused to emerge from a mass of competing details. At Grieg’s most subdued moments, genuine pianissimos were attained. But the uncomplicated emotions of Morning Mood and The Death of Ase were ill-served by some forcible stretching of the tempo.
All this was in complete contrast to the utter brilliance of the concerto, where everything seemed in thrall to the energy, taste and potent musicianship of soloist Lilya Zilberstein.
Saint-Saëns’s rather restrained and academic first movement might have made you wonder why a pianist who has been described by her regular duet partner, Martha Argerich, as “flawless” had not been invited to perform more mainstream, virtuosic repertoire.
But after the aromatic Andante, and a finale bursting with champagne and fireworks, there could be no questioning the choice of concerto – or Argerich’s judgment.