While those in other professions might decently think of taking the foot off the pedal when the sixth decade approaches, leading Irish pianist Hugh Tinney has been engaging in an intense concert series to celebrate his 60th birthday this year. Tonight he joined forces with German conductor Jonas Alber to tackle Beethoven’s “Emperor” Concerto.

Like last week’s concert which featured only the works of Tchaikovsky, tonight’s concert focused on Beethoven. And judging by the turn out for both nights, the one-composer programme is a winner. Sold out weeks in advance, tonight’s concert showcased some of the most delectable works in the repertoire: the Egmont overture, Piano concerto no. 5 and Symphony no. 7.

Hugh Tinney © Colm Hogan at Castletown House
Hugh Tinney
© Colm Hogan at Castletown House

Alber and the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra delivered a commanding performance of Beethoven’s Egmont Overture, a play by Goethe which depicts Lamoral, Count of Egmont leading a revolt against the Spanish invaders in the Netherlands with tragic consequences. Alber imbued the portentous F minor chords which open the work with dramatic tension, while the thundering fortissimo didn’t auger well for the rebellious Count. A tall man who dominated the podium, Alber sawed the air with large gestures, eliciting an exciting sound from the RTÉ NSO. The sweep and trajectory of the music was kept firmly in mind as he whipped the orchestra up into a gutsy finale, explosive energy rippling through the ensemble.

Tinney’s account of the “Emperor” was intelligent and thoughtful, if slightly cautious. Ignoring the swaggering nature of the arpeggios and rhapsodic scales that open the first movement, Tinney concentrated on eliciting a warm tone from the piano before erupting into a huge sound as the orchestra joined in. The orchestra added a nice rustic element here with muscular sforzandi before swiftly changing mood to the suave second theme. There were some ravishing moments to Tinney’s playing – his dreamy explorations of the B major section and the great stillness to his pianissimo in the development possessed an almost Chopinesque glossy sheen, to name but two instances. At other times though, around the climax of the recap, it lacked the necessary fire and oomph that I desire in Beethoven.

It was in the second movement Adagio that the Tinney and Alber partnership was at its most fruitful, the silky lyricism of the strings imbuing the melody with a glowing luminosity, while Tinney lovingly phrased each note. It was his tonal colouring that impressed the most here: the gradation of the dynamics in the recapitulation was nothing short of exquisite. The finale was lively and charming, and behind the muscular chords on the piano dashed here and there with humour. The rhythm both on the taut strings and the piano propelled the music forward to its joyous conclusion.

Alber’s account of the Seventh Symphony possessed all the exhilaration of a steeplechase horse race: tempi were driven, rhythm sharply delineated and dynamics were vibrant. What it possessed in excitement, it lacked in subtlety. Certainly there were lots to admire in Alber’s uninhibited account of the first movement: its rambunctious charm, its dramatic dynamics. However, the clean, lean sound the RTÉ NSO possesses under Stutzmann was not here: infelicities in balance abounded with bludgeoning timpani and shrill trumpets.

The intoxicatingly beautiful second movement Allegretto lost its seductive appeal in Alber’s fast flowing account. The glossy sheen of the strings failed to expand in the whirl of his current. The Presto third movement possessed all the verve and joie de vivre of a young stallion let out for a playful gambol. Alber applied the breaks for the trio section successfully bringing out its pomp. The finale crackled with electric energy. At times visceral, at others palpitating, Alber whipped the ensemble up to an exhilarating frenzy and delivered a thoroughly enjoyable conclusion.

***11