RTÉ NSO/ Montgomery

 

NCH, Dublin. Dvorak – Nocturne. Tippett – Fantasia Concertante on a theme of Corelli. Beethoven – Symphony No 3 (Eroica).

The greatest institutions and the most obscure satellites of the orchestral world have engaged with the conductors who have emerged from the world of period instruments performance. Grappling with experts in the matter of period performance sensibility is an area of enterprise, however, in which both of RTÉ’s orchestras have been rather shy.

Last week saw a change, however, as Kenneth Montgomery directed an account of Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony that must be one of the lightest and fleetest that the NSO has ever given.

Montgomery didn’t just have the violins in a split layout on the stage – firsts on his left, seconds on his right – he also had the double basses split at the back, with half of the players on either side.

Everyone was using the lightest of vibrato, accentuation was often a matter of deft sallying rather than heavy-duty attack, and, all in all, this was probably the most bracing account of the symphony that I’ve heard from the orchestra.

The Eroicaof course, as its nickname implies, is required to be more than simply bracing. Montgomery’s treatment of the slow movement had little sense of funeral march about it (curiously, the composer’s Marcia funebre marking didn’t appear in the list of movements printed in the programme book either), and the orchestra’s too frequently heard practice of having first violins dominating unduly was all too present in parts of the first movement.

It was in the fizzing energy of the Scherzo and the eager drive of the Finale that this performance sounded best.

The two works of the first half were given in what might almost have been called enriched versions. Dvorak’s Notturnofor strings was taken extremely slowly, bringing the piece an unusual, intense reined-in emotionalism.

And Michael Tippett’s Corelli Fantasia, with the orchestra’s own Alan Smale, Elaine Clark and Martin Johnson on solo violins and cello, was delivered with full complexity and richness. Was it the trees that couldn’t be seen for the forest? Or the forest for the trees? Either way, this performance sounded indulgent, effusive, excessive: music decorated with an almost intoxicating sense of elaboration.

And next Friday, as part of RTÉ’s Music Week, the NSO makes its first major foray in to Bach for decades, when it performs his Mass in B minor with the RTÉ Philharmonic choir under baroque specialist Nicholas Kraemer.