MARTIN ADAMSreviews Rastrelli Cello Quartetin Dublin Castle and MICHAEL DUNGANreviews Brautigam, Ulster Orchestra/ Ollila-Hannikainenat NCH, Dublin

Rastrelli Cello Quartet

Coach House, Dublin Castle

This refreshing first concert in a 10-venue Music Network tour introduced a different kind of string quartet, for the Rastrelli Quartet consists of four cellos. Like many others hearing them for the first time, I was not sure what to expect.

It was great! Inevitably, the programme consisted almost entirely of arrangements. The earliest work was La Folia, by the great French baroque player-composer for the viol, Marias. The latest was written by a member of the quartet, Sergio Drabkine. In between, the majority of works came from the early to middle years of the 20th century, with stylistic variety in abundance, including jazz, ragtime and theatre music.

There was never a dull moment. The range of pieces and the way the programme was ordered helped; but, above all, it was because of the players’ abilities as musicians and as showmen. Hailing from Russia and Germany, each is a virtuoso in his own right, and together they play with a sense of musical purpose and personal camaraderie that is infectious.

The cello’s inherent versatility – its ability to be a low bass, to sing a high melody and everything in between – was called on in most of the arrangements. Some of these were so effective that they sounded as if they were originally for this combination. Among those were the six short movements from Zinzadze’s Georgian Folk Suite– full of subtle changes of colour and texture, and ranging from melodiously sweet to fast and furious. Many of the jazz arrangements worked particularly well too, especially Jimmy Forrest’s Night Trainand pieces made famous by Dave Brubeck.

It was these, in the second half, that roused the already keen audience to whoops of delight. Tours to Tipperary town tonight, Kilmallock tomorrow, Kilworth on Sun, Castlebar on Tues, Ballina on Wed, Navan on Thur and Dundalk on Fri MARTIN ADAMS

Brautigam, Ulster Orchestra/ Ollila-Hannikainen

NCH, Dublin

Weber– Oberon Overture.

Beethoven– Piano Concerto No 5, Emperor.

Stanford– Symphony No 5.

Tuomas Ollila-Hannikainen comes from the Sibelius Academy’s famous conducting class with Jorma Panula, who also produced Esa-Pekka Salonen, Jukka-Pekka Saraste and Sakari Oramo, among a whole slew of successful Finns.

Ollila-Hannikainen both exerted tight control over the visiting Ulster Orchestra and also produced a fine spectrum of moods and colours by means of an economical physical style. So, for example, he variously conjured a magical fairytale land in Weber’s Oberonoverture and a glimpse of heaven at the end of Stanford’s Milton-inspired Symphony No 5.

He was also a highly but discreetly engaged partner to the eminent Dutch soloist, Ronald Brautigam, in Beethoven’s EmperorPiano Concerto. For his part, Brautigam – perhaps to do with his affection for fortepiano – generated an intense concentration of power without recourse to blood and thunder, smoothly maintaining a similar intensity despite a light touch in the elegant slow movement.

No doubt devised in 2008 or earlier, this wasn’t a recession-proof programme. Even paired with a popular Beethoven concerto, a symphony by Dublin-born Charles Villiers Stanford demonstrates admirable adventure but probably didn’t help at the box office on this occasion.

The piece is more interesting than distinguished. Stanford is among a number of composers of his generation who appeared to believe that music had reached its ultimate expression in Brahms. The influence of Brahms therefore often stands out in Stanford, certainly in this symphony, but rarely with the same sophistication. And that’s a problem with certain ways of responding to influences, namely that the odds are that the one influenced is almost bound to come off second-best.

Stanford’s second, rural-coloured movement is like Dvorák-lite, the Brahmsian nobility in the resigned lament – conducted by Adrian Boult at Stanford’s funeral in Westminster Abbey in 1924 – showing more surface than depth.

That said, these features were not enough to render the rare programming of this well-written and characterful symphony unwelcome. In particular, the lively finale reflects a nicely assimilated interest in Tchaikovsky – someone less often associated with Stanford – whose spirit Ollila-Hannikainen evoked as he easily drew out tight, energetic and sharply coloured playing from a very game Ulster Orchestra. MICHAEL DUNGAN