Hugh Tinney (piano), RTE ECO/Proinnsias O Duinn
Overture di ballo - Sullivan
Midsummer Night's Dream Scherzo - Mendelssohn
Piano Concerto No 2 - Mendelssohn
Overture in C (In Memoriam) - Sullivan
Symphony No 4 (Italian) - Mendelssohn
Felix Mendelssohn was one of the musical darlings of Victorian Britain, ranking a longer entry in the first edition of Grove's Dictionary than either Beethoven or Wagner. Arthur Sullivan, the musical half of Gilbert & Sullivan, was a man whose serious output faded from the concert hall with the passing of the Victorian age.
The coupling of the work of the two composers in last Friday's Masterworks programme ECO under its principal conductor, Proinnsias O Duinn, served as a celebration of Victorian musical taste.
The two Sullivan overtures showed the composer in lighter (Di ballo) and more sombre mood (In Memoriam).
Mendelssohn was represented at his very finest (the Scherzo from A Midsummer Night's Dream and Italian Symphony), and by his Second Piano Concerto, a work that requires persuasive advocacy if it is not to sound predictably four-square.
The success of the performances was very mixed. The playing was tidier than most I have heard in recent years from the RTECO under O Duinn. But there was too little distinction between foreground and background - the perspectives were often as flat as an image in a telephoto lens - and the expressive responses were generalised rather than specific.
Hugh Tinney offered brilliant fingerwork, and chiselled clarity in a finely-drilled reading of the D minor Piano Concerto, but he never gave even the slightest hint that he might regard the work as anything other than second-rate formula.
The first movement of the Italian Symphony was delivered with an animation which brought a real edge of excitement to the music-making. But the welcome upgrade was not sustained, and the playing then returned to the routine of an altogether less stimulating centre ground.