Peckham, RTÉ NSO/ Stroman


NCH, Dublin

Astute commissioning and advantageous scheduling on the part of RTÉ meant circumstances were specially favourable for Hands, the new concerto for electric guitar and orchestra by Irish composer Ronan Guilfoyle.

As an acoustic bass guitarist of wide recognition in the jazz world, and with more than half a dozen weighty orchestral scores to his credit, Guilfoyle had all the right credentials to write a concerto for what he describes as “the most popular instrument in the world”.

On top of that, a preview performance, complete with spoken commentary by the composer, had been given three days before this, the official premiere. Together with two pre-concert interviews, programme notes and video blogs, the opportunities to get to know the composition and about its genesis were abundant.

Whether one was drawn by the electric guitar, the orchestra, or both, the question lingered of why Guilfoyle hadn’t done more in the outer movements to spotlight the talents of soloist Rick Peckham.

Except in a couple of assertive passages in the opening Moderato, and in the finale’s busy opening riff, the guitar blended inconspicuously with the orchestra.

All that changed, however, in Peckham’s gently kaleidoscopic cadenza, improvised with the help of an array of effects pedals. And he remained prominent in the ensuing Adagio, where Guilfoyle’s lush, post-Romantic orchestration and gushing, post-melodic melodies ensure that, for all its fraught rhythms and acerbic tonalities, this concerto has a big heart.

This programme proved a showcase for the versatility of Scott Stroman, whose first appearance as guest conductor with the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra had been the Handspreview.

John Adams’s Slonimsky’s Earboxswept along with exhilarating precision, while there was no containing the vaudevillian buffoonery of Shostakovich’s so-called Jazz Suite No 2. His skittish Symphony No 9, moreover, was a model of fresh interpretive nuancing.