<< -- 2 -- Samuel A Brown Evolution or revolution?
'Variations' were a recurring theme throughout the weekend,
and it began with a performance of Schoenberg's opus 31 Variations
for Orchestra by the National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland under its principal
conductor Gerhard Markson. This is a work which relies on variations of
tone colour as much as 'tone rows' and here the orchestra was
a little lacking. A more delicate approach (particularly in the strings)
would have revealed many more layers to Schoenberg's work. Any disappointments
in the opening work were quickly made up for with the arrival of Ernst Kovacic
as the soloist in Berg's Violin Concerto. Kovacic brought a Viennese
lyricism perfect for this work by the composer often seen as the most Romantic
of the Second Viennese School. Soprano Virginia Kerr meanwhile, the soloist
in Schoenberg's Erwartung, proved herself well able for the
task. The piece, once referred to as the first 'musical psycho-drama'
is very much a product of its times -- and if I say it was an ordeal to go
through, it is meant as a compliment to Kerr.
A second soprano, Patricia Rosario, joined the Vanbrugh String Quartet
in an afternoon performance of Schoenberg's String Quartet No 2. It's
a piece Rosario has performed with the quartet on several occasions and
she appears to be growing in confidence and relaxing more into the role
each time. This was one of several concerts that aimed to put Schoenberg
(and Webern) into some kind of historical context and included a somewhat
heavy-handed Schubert Quartetsatz and Beethoven's Grosse
Fuge. The quartet's known for its Beethoven, but this performance
didn't find it on its best form, being a little rushed and giving a
sense of 'going through the motions'. Webern's early Lansamer
Satz, while interesting in its affinity to the music of Richard Strauss,
didn't stand up well against the mature works on display here and some
of the later music for string quartet would have made a more satisfying
The drive to contextualise spread into the closing night's concert
which once again saw the National Symphony Orchestra on stage under Markson.
The programme was an unlikely and uninspiring mix of Mozart (Marriage of
Figaro Overture), Haydn (Surprise Symphony) and Beethoven (Leonore Overture
No 3) Again we saw the inclusion of interesting but unrepresentative juvenalia
-- this time from Schoenberg and Webern. The latter's Im Sommerwind
is often recorded and was well played by the orchestra. Meanwhile Notturno
by Schoenberg is thought to be the composer's first publicly performed
work, written a full three years before Verklärte Nacht. There
is no doubt the NSOI did it justice in what was the work's Irish premiere.
As soloist, leader Alan Smale stuck the perfect sweet tone without verging
on the trite. But both of these pieces were mere trifles compared to what
seemed to be the main business of the evening.
Copyright © 22 February 2002
Samuel A Brown, Dublin, Ireland
THE NATIONAL SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA OF IRELAND
THE VANBRUGH STRING QUARTET
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