Subscriber OnlyMusicReview

Classical review: Finghin Collins a tower of strength in Killian Farrell’s unusual, stimulating NSO concert

Show’s Irish half includes music by Ina Boyle and Charles Villiers Stanford

Finghin Collins, NSO/Killian Farrell

National Concert Hall, Dublin

The Dublin-born conductor Killian Farrell, currently general music director of the Staatstheater Meiningen in Germany, conducted an unusual and stimulating programme with the National Symphony Orchestra on Friday.

The first half was all Irish, and concentrated on music composed by Ina Boyle and Charles Villiers Stanford in the second decade of the 20th century.

Stanford wrote his Second Piano Concerto in 1911, at the age of 58, when he was under the spell of having conducted Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto with the composer as soloist the previous year.

The English premiere of the Rachmaninov had been given by the Odessa-born Vassily Sapellnikov in 1902, and Stanford had already conducted a student performance of the work in 1908. But the collaboration with the composer himself obviously made a deep impression, and it’s impossible to ignore the waft of the Russian master in parts of the Stanford concerto.


This is especially true of the opening, which echoes the churning arpeggios that open the Rachmaninov. Stanford sounds as though he chose to put pianistic virtuosity more to the fore, though this impression may in part be created by the fact that his work is less complex and lighter in weave than his model.

With Finghin Collins a tower of strength, Farrell drove the music with considerable urgency. But, with a lot of flavours beyond Rachmaninov in the mix, the effect of the music was somewhere on the lines of a cover version by a less than top-rate tribute band.

At 30, Boyle was a little over half Stanford’s age when she had her first success, through her 1919 rhapsody, The Magic Harp, being published by the Carnegie Trust. The title references the three strings of Eva Gore-Booth’s Durd Alba, “the iron string of sleep, the bronze string of laughter, and the silver string, the sound of which made all men weep”. The work even made it to the Proms in London in 1923.

Boyle’s evocation at the very opening of the climax of the aria Vesti la Giubba, from Leoncavallo’s Pagliacci, is most peculiar, and the portentous import of the short opening section is not delivered on. The mood-setting is patchy enough for carefully built-up effects to deflate regularly. She may have been 30, but The Magic Harp is more promising than mature.

Farrell worked hard to compensate through imaginative handling of the orchestral colouring. He drove the evening’s best work, the 1875 Fifth Symphony by the 33-year-old Antonín Dvořák, a little bit too hard, his urgency not only crowding out any real sense of Dvořákian geniality but also limiting the music’s rhythmic spring as well as its ability to smile.

Michael Dervan

Michael Dervan

Michael Dervan is a music critic and Irish Times contributor