It seems to be on trend lately for the conductors of the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra to possess flourishing careers as soloists as well. Last week, we had a contralto-turned-conductor. This week it was Jaime Martín, the Spanish flautist-turned-conductor. It’s not the first time that Martín has visited Dublin, and I have been much impressed with his fine attention to detail and his sensitive balancing of orchestral sounds. Last night’s concert confirmed this as he delivered a charming and tasteful performance of some early 20th-century music.

Javier Perianes © Josep Molina
Javier Perianes
© Josep Molina

It’s a rarity that pantomime music finds its way into a serious concert programme. Then again, Nielsen’s Aladdin is no ordinary pantomime music. Written at a time when Nielsen was going through severe personal tribulations, the music reflects none of the angst or doubt that was plaguing him at the time. Conceived on a symphonic scale, the seven episodes here teemed with life and vitality, colour and exoticism. Conductor Martín was in his element, opening the Oriental Festival March with great vim and verve. The NSO responded to these majestic gestures with a fulsome sound from the strings, an insistent cheeky blast from the trumpet and vivid filigree from the piccolo. The calm of Aladdin’s Dream and Dance of the Morning Mists was a satisfying contrast and if the ending high notes on the violins were of mixed quality, the rolling triplets and the swoosh of the flute evoked the fairy tale.

The Hindu and Chinese Dances were charmingly played despite possessing none of the hallmarks of either culture. The Marketplace in Isphahan, however, captured the bustle of the bazaar with its shrill trumpets suggesting wheedling and the ostinato violins the general hum of trade. It was the last two dances that really caught the imagination. The vivid shriek of the brass and crash of the cymbals in The Dance of the Prisoners made for a disturbing opening. The tension was ratcheted up with the violin’s cries for pain and the piccolo’s cries. Martín kept up the visceral intensity of this piece. The Negro Dance was a thrilling, timpani-pounding affair, with breathless action and exciting off-beat pizzicato. Here Martín emphasised its rhythmic vitality, the piece pulsating and throbbing with elemental passion.

Recently, Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G major has appeared to rival Rachmaninov 2 as the most played piano concerto. Spanish pianist Javier Perianes gave a fine rendition of this warhorse. He showed himself to be equally at home with the jazz elements as well as the avant-garde ones. The three-hand effect with the trill in the right hand and the melody etched above the rolling arpeggios was stunningly done. The orchestra responded with great liveliness and intelligence. The harp solo provided a moment of ethereal stillness.

The second movement was hauntingly beautiful, with Perianes proving that he is a poet of the piano. Here, the cor anglais’ infinitely sad melody with its glistening contrapuntal piano accompaniment was a highlight for me. The spell was broken by the raucous brass opening of the finale. The moto perpetuo on the piano was perfectly executed by Perianes, as if it was so much child’s play. A rousing final flourish brought the first half to a very enjoyable end.

Martín’s vision for Sibelius’ final 1919 version of Symphony no. 5 in E flat major was a romantic one, with yearning strings and blazing brass, milking pathos from each phrase. The Presto of the first movement had real excitement as it precipitously dashed along, while there was a vernal shyness to the second movement Andante. Here Martín adopted a flowing tempo, and the sinister roll of thunder at the end of this movement was well highlighted. The third movement started at a tremendous pace with edgy violins urging the music forward before launching into a romantic rendition of the “swan hymn”. The horns’ fine, characterful playing was particularly noteworthy. As the climax swelled for its final ecstatic rendition of the swan theme, Martín brought this original and compelling interpretation to an end.