National Concert Hall prizes for flautist Galway and soprano Davis
The überflautist took the lifetime achievement award, while the soprano landed the Bernadette Greevy Bursary
Flautist James Galway. Photograph: Alan Betson
Jennifer Davis: saw off stiff competition for the fourth Bernadette Greevy Bursary
The National Concert Hall recently honoured two Irish musicians at opposite ends of their careers. Überflautist James Galway became the second recipient of the NCH’s annual Lifetime Achievement Award, of which last year’s inaugural laureates were Paddy Moloney and The Chieftains; and it was announced that rising soprano Jennifer Davis had seen off stiff competition for the fourth Bernadette Greevy Bursary. Having appeared with the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra in July, Davis makes her Wexford Festival Opera debut this month with the lead role of Adina in Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore.
The bursary comes hitched to an evening solo recital at the NCH, which mezzo-soprano Rachel Kelly, the 2012 winner, delivered last Wednesday with accompanist Matthew Fletcher at the piano. In a chiefly late-romantic programme, Kelly tackled the statuesque declamations of Debussy’s Chansons de Bilitis and Richard Strauss’s Vier Lieder Op 27 with more zest and sparkle than actual communicativeness, and reeled off a string of Irish folksong arrangements by Herbert Hughes with seemingly inexhaustible athleticism.
It was in arias from operas by Handel (Ariodante) and Vivaldi (Bajazet), where the music took care of the prosody rather than vice versa, that Kelly’s fine technique and assertive musicianship were at their most impressive.
Friday evening’s playing by the RTÉ NSO under Austrian conductor Christian Arming combined a high feel-good factor with some reckless tonal balances. The latter spelled danger, especially in the elusively innocent finale of Mahler’s Symphony No 4, where the child-like and cheerful contributions of soprano soloist Mary Nelson were for the most part veiled by an accompaniment persistently louder than the required pianissimo. There was some reluctance, too, for the violins to indulge in the composer’s directions to glide between notes, a period detail essential to the melting effects of the Poco adagio. Rather, Arming’s architectonic approach had its happiest results in the first movement, where each give and take in the tempo brought its own injection of pure charm.
Again in terms of instrumental balance, the revised version of Britten’s back catalogue Piano Concerto of 1938/1945 proved a sometimes unequal battleground for soloist Barry Douglas. True, there are openings in the heavy scoring through which Douglas could register a thoroughly apposite equilibrium of muscle and refinement. But the fact remained that this concerto contains too many reminiscences of other, more successful ones from the inter-war years, such as those of Ravel (in G) and Prokofiev (No 3).
Fortunately there was an opportunity to savour Douglas’s playing unalloyed in a late-evening programme of character pieces from Brahms’s Opp 10 and 117-19 sets. This was a rare realisation of music as intensely pianistic as piano music gets, in which nothing was purely decorative, everything substantive, and every last note seemed to make its own persuasive point.
Concorde at the Hugh Lane
Jane O’Leary’s venerable new-music ensemble Concorde, now just three years from its 40th anniversary season, presented at the Hugh Lane Gallery a mini-retrospective of works by Irish or Irish-resident composers it had premiered in the first four months of this year. Con permiso Litoral, by Ariel Hernandez, was the most accessible item, placing a trio of violin (Elaine Clark), accordion (Dermot Dunne) and cello (Adrian Mantu) at the service of folk dances from the composer’s homeland of Argentina. Though there are no tangos as such, this six-movement suite might be characterised as a successful rustic take on the addictive idioms of Piazzolla.