There will be plenty of Beethoven on the musical menu for his 250th birthday year, but the Dublin audience for American violinist Stefan Jackiw's performance of the Violin Concerto with the RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra under Leonard Slatkin may well expect to hear nothing better. The pairing of the 35-year-old Jackiw with the 75-year-old Slatkin was one of those musical marriages made in heaven, and the NSO rose to the occasion with one of the best performances I've heard in the National Concert Hall.

Stefan Jackiw © Sophie Zhai
Stefan Jackiw
© Sophie Zhai

From the opening five-note drumbeat that kicks off Beethoven's tour de force, to the rousing Rondo that ends it, Jackiw and Slatkin were perfect partners. The young American is a master at turning out notes of laser-like accuracy and pristine clarity. His playing in the first movement seemed a bit cool at first, but that may be his way of setting up his audience for the breathtaking beauty of the cadenza. Jackiw seemed almost to have four hands as he dug deep to explore every facet, taking his listeners on a musical journey that was at once based on everything that had gone before, yet somehow sublimely different. It was almost a surprise to hear the orchestra softly returning at the cadenza's end, to bring us back to earth.

Jackiw's unerring musicality made the second movement Larghetto seem more soulful than it sometimes does. He also used dynamics to wonderful effect, especially at the end of the movement when he was playing so pianissimo that he had his listeners straining to hear, before launching into the rousing and boisterous Rondo finale.

Slatkin and the NSO were superb partners, with the various sections following Jackiw's lead attentively as they echoed the violin in different voices, and Slatkin assuring that the spotlight remained on the soloist. It was an absolute triumph that brought the audience to their feet, after which Jackiw reciprocated with an immaculately played Bach encore.

For this all-Beethoven extravaganza, Slatkin also programmed the Symphony no. 7 in A major and the rarely heard Consecration of the House overture. Slatkin's Seventh was impeccable and full of character. Beethoven was clearly having fun in the third movement, with motifs played first in the low strings, then the mid-registers and finally the violins – bouncing across the soundstage like a stereo test record – and Slatkin gave the effect all the pizzazz it deserved. The performance was full of attention to such detail, showing off the NSO at its best.

The concert opened with the overture, which was commissioned in 1822 for the opening of the refurbished Theater in der Josefstadt in Vienna. It is separated by only one opus number from Beethoven's monumental Ninth Symphony, but couldn't be more different. In a pre-concert talk, Slatkin said "You will know C major by the time it's over," but noted that an historic birthday is a great time to hear something different.

As it was, Jackiw, Slatkin and the NSO turned in a birthday tribute to the Bonn genius worthy of any of the great music capitals of Europe.

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