Strong start for John Wilson as new RTÉ Concert Orchestra conductor

The authority of the playing is startling – the orchestra at its responsive and wide-ranging best

John Wilson: epitomises the multi-tasking musician who crosses boundaries

John Wilson: epitomises the multi-tasking musician who crosses boundaries

Thu, Jan 23, 2014, 17:03

Johnston, RTÉ NSO/Wilson
NCH, Dublin
****


Vaughan Williams – The Wasps Overture; London Symphony.
Walton
– Cello Concerto.


John Wilson, the new principal conductor of the RTÉ Concert Orchestra, has a stellar reputation as a transcriber and arranger of film scores, as well as a conductor. He also epitomises the multi-tasking musician who readily crosses boundaries, for his critically acclaimed recordings include not only light music and music for film, but concert music by Elgar, Walton, Vaughan Williams and Delius.

So I was hopeful that this concert, in which Wilson conducted the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra in an all-English programme, would be strong. But even so, I am startled by the authority of the playing – this is the RTÉ NSO at its responsive and wide-ranging best.

The subtle scoring of Walton’s Cello Concerto calls for refined discourse between soloist and orchestra and for solo playing that persuades by beauty of expression as much as by virtuosic authority. Guy Johnston’s cello playing has all that, and it soars with deceptive ease; while the orchestral contribution is unfailingly sympathetic.

A dramatic, vigorous account of Vaughan Williams’s overture The Wasps is promising for that composer’s London Symphony, which comes after the interval. But the symphony is a much more demanding piece, requiring a consistent grip on large-scale structure throughout a range of contrasts that can easily induce episodic presentation.

This performance has a dramatic cogency stronger than any of the several I have heard. Wilson sustains a narrative sweep based not on notions that the music creates pictures of London, but on the inherent musical qualities of its vivid contrasts. It seems that this classic of English music has been thought through afresh. Everything sounds purposeful, as tight, dramatically intense and cutting-edge as when the piece was completed some 80 years ago.