There was a lively hum in the auditorium tonight as Culture Night was under way, a night where all museums and historic buildings in Ireland are open free to the public; the RTÉ NSO providing this concert free of charge to the public. The ever popular principal guest conductor, Nathalie Stutzmann and gifted soloists, violinist Veronica Eberle and violist Amihai Grosz ensured that the public were not going to be disappointed.

Nathalie Stutzmann © Simon Fowler
Nathalie Stutzmann
© Simon Fowler

Keeping the different audience in mind, the planning for tonight’s concert was designed to please and inspire in equal measure. Opening with Rossini's ever popular William Tell Overture, it also contained the iconic Mozart Sinfonia Concertante for violin and viola and concluded with the passionate Symphony no. 7 in D minor by Dvořák.

Rossini’s last opera William Tell gets scant outings nowadays, but thanks to its concluding “Lone Ranger” theme, its overture is guaranteed frequent outings. The wistful cello solo which opens the work set the tone beautifully, singing out his mournful melody with heartfelt vibrato. Stutzmann held back the crescendo at the start of the tempest section heightening the tension before allowing the whole orchestra to erupt in tremolos and chromatic scales. There was an economy of restraint in the NSO’s approach and the storm in this section failed to blaze forth with incandescent fury. Stutzmann imbued the pastoral passage with a pressed matter-of-fact-ness which was a shade too brisk – like a shepherd in a hurry to get his cattle home for the night. But there was no doubting the military gusto of the final section, something the audience approved with heads bobbing to the pounding rhythm.

While little is known about the origins of Mozart’s Sinfonia Concertante for violin, viola and orchestra, this iconic work was written at the time when Mozart was thoroughly discontented with his years of servitude in Salzburg. The viola has equal billing to the violin here, something that was achieved by and large by the soloists Eberle and Grosz’s spirited approach. In the opening, the mellow sounds of the viola intertwined with the sweet, lighter sounds of the violin as the two spoke of one. There was great oomph and energy in the livelier sections while mischievousness peeped out from behind the elegance and charm of the recapitulation. In the cadenza, Eberle and Grosz enjoyed the interplay of their melodies as both sang out their lines eloquently. Stutzmann played up the romantic element of the second movement and the NSO responded with a warm tone, the wisps of melody etched across the profound harmonies. The Presto final movement thrummed cheerfully along, the two soloists rejoicing in their offbeat accents and egging one another on with playfulness and cheerfulness.

The highlight of the concert came with Dvořák’s Seventh Symphony. Both its passionate outbursts and delicate whisperings were expertly managed by Stutzmann, who caressed every phrase with great sensitivity. The NSO responded intelligently to her vision: the turmoil of the opening movement was positively thrilling. The second movement Poco adagio opened with a rustic charm though in its stormier sections, it possessed a smouldering intensity. The woodwind section impressed throughout: at times, cheery and chirpy; at other times lyrical and strong. The passionate declaration in F major from all the orchestra made my spine tingle while peace pervaded the ending as it died away. The symphony was written shortly after the death of Dvořák’s mother and it was not hard to imagine her life ebbing away here.

The shy, vernal mutterings of the strings soon gave away to bright, brilliant declaration of the main Scherzo theme of the third movement. Here Stutzmann drove the music forward rhythmically and there was a palpable sense of enjoyment from the NSO. Scarcely pausing, Stutzmann launched into the tragic turmoil of the finale, the opening enveloped in a miasma of mystery. Once again, she seized on the sharp rhythms to propel the music forward. At times, the music was edgy, at times tense and fierce before culminating in a brilliant and majestic climax. It was a performance which made an eloquent and compelling interpretation of one of Dvořák’s masterpieces.