Since taking charge of the podium, Daniele Rustioni has made quite some impression in Belfast, with his strong personality, unique platform presence and sense of fun — not to mention his considerable interpretative prowess. In his second concert as Musical Director of the Ulster Orchestra, he once again filled the Ulster Hall to capacity with a programme of divergent works, revealing his ability to bring innovation, inspiration and accessibility.

Daniele Rustioni © Davide Cerati
Daniele Rustioni
© Davide Cerati

With an almost operatic sense of theatre and a very polished sound, the opening of Strauss’ Don Juan had a capricious energy and bouncing youthful glee in Rustioni’s depiction of the seducer. Rustioni fully engaged his orchestra with his unambiguous gestures and perceptive storytelling. Each of the episodes in this lover’s tale had its own unique colour and character; the intensity of the seduction of his ‘conquests’, the convincing darkness of the ghosts and the Don’s tragic demise. The balance and tone of the horns throughout was exceptional. Violin solos, played by associate leader Ioana Petcu-Colan were an equal match to the orchestra’s leader, who was appearing later as the concerto soloist.

Since his arrival as leader, Tamás Kocsis’ concerto appearances have been highlights of many UO seasons. His obvious talents and endearing modesty have won over Northern Ireland audiences with deepest Irish affection. Whilst not an obvious choice of work, Berg’s Violin Concerto was given a refined, sublime but deeply emotional performance. Dedicated to “the memory of an angel” — the daughter of Alma Mahler and Walter Gropius, Kocsis and Rustioni found the transcendence in this rather harmonically adventurous work. From the ethereal opening, Kocsis’ tone was exquisite. With a range of vibrato speeds, he subtly changed the melancholic monochromatic hues with intrinsic intuition, phrasing the atonal themes as if they were Mendelssohnian melodies. Part 2 was executed with absolute certainty from Rustioni and Kocsis who worked as one. Rustioni following Kocsis as the uneasy and raw emotion of the Allegro gave way to something more spiritually inspired in the Adagio — which uses Bach’s chorale “Es ist genug”. They shaped the different depictions with deep and insightful persuasion to resolution. Malinconia from Ysaÿe’s second sonata for solo violin was an appropriate and fitting encore from Kocsis, leading to a captivated and reverent silence.

Completing the evening was an intelligently informed performance of Beethoven’s “Eroica” Symphony. The sprightly Allegro con brio first movement, was as animated as the opening of Don Juan earlier. It movement romped along convincingly; phrasing was stylistic strengthened by detailed dynamics, accents and articulation, and enhanced with the use of natural timpani. The Marcia funebre had a sense of a journey, quite similar to the Berg, whilst the Scherzo and Trio leapt past, building and releasing musical tensions effectively. Rustioni brought a sense of the opera overture to the opening bars of the joyous Allegro molto finale, evolving into an aria without words in this riveting and majestic conclusion.