Reflections on a theme


THE Irish Chamber Orchestra began its series of three spring concerts in association with the National Concert Ha on Sunday afternoon with an all English first half.

Richard Rodney Bennett Reflections on a theme of William Walton for 11 solo strings were written in 1985 for the conductorless Guildhall String Ensemble. Walton's Sonata for strings is a 1971 reworking of the composer's A minor String Quartet of 1947, carried out (with a little help from his then Co Wicklow resident colleague, Malcolm Arnold) at the behest of Neville Marriner for his Academy of St Martin in the Fields.

Bennett, who was 60 last year, is a prolific polymath of a composer. As a young man he wanted to compose like Boulez and became his pupil; but, he has said, the one thing Boulez taught him was "not to want to write like that". Today, in addition to works for concert performance, he pursues successful parallel careers as a writer of film scores and as a jazz performer.

His Reflections on a theme of William Walton, sparked by a theme from Walton's Second Symphony, are typically highly polished and grateful for the performers. The careful subdividing of lines, for instance, brings a richness that might not have been expected with just 11 players. But the idiom is unadventurous, ultimately rather too soft centred to spark any desire for further acquaintance.

The Walton Sonata carries a charge of greater vitality which seemed to leave the players of the ICO a little unsettled in the opening Allegro. But the fleet Scherzo was better done, the husky wistfulness of the succeeding Lento was nicely gauged and the players were fully on form for the snap and bite of the finale, by far the most successful movement in this performance.

The single work of the second half, Dvorak's enchanting Serenade for Strings, brought music that was more familiar to both players and audience. The ICO's performance, directed from the first desk by Fionnuala Hunt, was sweetly affectionate, making most of the opportunities to show off the finely textured string tone of which this orchestra is capable.

The bubbling energy of the finale was handled with a highly infectious joie de vivre which brought the programme to a memorably buoyant close.