Tonight’s concert was like opening a bottle of wine: somewhat non-descript at first, but with air and time, it blossomed into a full-bodied, elegant red with all types of interesting tasting notes. It took time for the RTÉ NSO to warm to the subtle but insightful directions of conductor Miguel Harth-Bedoya but by the second half, we were treated to a masterful interpretation of Beethoven's Eroica Symphony.

Eldbjørg Hemsing © Alikhan Photography | Nikolaj Lund
Eldbjørg Hemsing
© Alikhan Photography | Nikolaj Lund

If a vinous comparison sums up the interpretation then a culinary one neatly describes the programming of Brahms, Dvořák and Beethoven. Rich and luscious, it had all of the irresistible qualities of a chocolate brownie with ice-cream and extra cream. “Yes please!” was essentially the audience’s response as they thronged the hall.

Starting straight in, Harth-Bedoya established the rhythmic tension of the opening of Brahms’ Academic Festival Overture very well but it all felt strangely shy. There was befitting tenderness to the more lyrical sections but the rambunctious fortissimos lacked bite, while there were some intonation issues with the violins as they negotiated the perilous heights. It wasn’t till the later syncopation section that the piece sparked into life with the final iteration sounding suitably boisterous.

Dvořák’s Violin Concerto in A minor is at times an elusive concerto to pull off: true to violin concertos of this era, it is not short on virtuosic bravura passages yet its subtle, restless character is a much harder selling point. This was the focus of the soloist, Norwegian rising star Eldbjørg Hemsing as she eloquently meditated on the more wistful writing of the first movement. At times, as high up on the G string in the recapitulation of the opening Allegro, she overindulged in vibrato which obscured the tender lyricism but there were moments of ethereal beauty as the violin’s melody intertwined with those of the woodwinds. The octaves and double stops glowed with passion while the scales and arpeggio were executed with laser-like precision.

Her luminous tone added lustre to the ruminative lyricism of the second movement while the NSO responded with a warm and sensitive accompaniment. It was in the mercurial finale that musician and music struck the most rewarding balance. The Slavic folk tune glistened with meticulous light-hearted good cheer, with sharp rhythmic delineations from the orchestra. Capturing the exquisite, ephemeral soundscape, Hemsing expertly handled the shifting cross rhythms and the fiendish octaves, bringing this concerto to an energetic and satisfying close.

It was the second half Beethoven’s Eroica Symphony that was the highlight of the concert. Gleaning that fulsome, meaty Beethovenian sound from the orchestra, Harth-Bedoya imbued the work with nobility and energy that had us listening to every note. The repeated fortissimo ‘stabs’ that occur several times in the opening movement were elemental while the wave of sound from the string section in the crescendos was impressively handled. The excitement and intensity of this movement was always in mind but firmly controlled throughout.

Intense mournfulness is the hallmark of the slow movement and Harth-Bedoya and the NSO gave a fine, heartfelt rendition of it. Poetic oboe melodies and fiery fanfares stood out here while the double fugue was thrilling in its desolate melancholy.

Much kudos goes to the trio of horns in the Scherzo which were characterful and well-pitched while the ubiquitous sforzandos were thoroughly exuberant. The entire orchestra revelled in the energy of the finale, producing a sparkling fugue, a rhythmic march and a glorious coda. What really impressed were the pianissimo passages which brimmed with wit and exhilaration before erupting into a thoroughly compelling conclusion. 

***11