Michael McHale


National Concert Hall, Dublin

RTÉ NSO/Wood Rachmaninov – Piano Concerto No 1. Shostakovich – Symphony No 10.

Rachmaninov was in his teens when he wrote his First Piano Concerto, his official Op. 1. In other words he was about 10 years younger than Michael McHale, born 1983, who played the work on Friday with the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra.

McHale responded to it as a young man’s piece. He always sounded well under pressure, kept even the busiest of figuration in the background when the main interest lay elsewhere, and positively relished the opportunities to show off his flying octaves. He was less persuasive in probing the music’s more melancholy moments. But the orchestra more than made up for this through the brooding intensity it mustered for visiting conductor Matthew Wood.

Gorgeous sounds were a feature of Wood’s conducting throughout the evening. He did rather labour the case of Shostakovich’s Tenth Symphony, delivering the first movement with the kind of portentousness that made it seem never-ending. It was as if Wood didn’t trust the music, and chose to help it along by underlinings and exaggerations. Yes, the orchestra sounded first-rate, but the insistence of the point-making became overbearing, even oppressive.

Given the range of extra-musical intentions that some commentators read into this work, the first symphony that Shostakovich completed after the death of Stalin, such an interpretative approach may have many fans. On Friday it sounded just too forced and too artificial.