It would take more than ex-hurricane Lorenzo for me to miss a concert as good as this one. It had it all: a diverse but unashamedly Romantic programme, one of my favourite conductors on the Irish scene and a soloist who gave a ravishing, utterly unforgettable performance of one the best-loved violin concertos in the repertoire.

Daniel Lozakovich © Lev Efimov | DG
Daniel Lozakovich
© Lev Efimov | DG

Opening the concert was Berlioz’ La Damnation de Faust. Given its leviathan nature (it clocks in at two and a half hours) it is far more frequent to hear episodes from it rather than the whole thing. The Dance of the Will o’ the Wisps, The Dance of the Sylphs and the Rákóczy March played in reverse chronological order in last night’s concert) are frequently heard in concert and given their programmatic nature and rousing good tunes, one can readily understand why.

Principal Guest Conductor Natalie Stutzmann was all charm in the mercurial Will o’ the Wisp with some playful mischief on the woodwind accompanied by piquant strings. Stutzmann delivered terrifically dramatic crescendos followed immediately by tense, pregnant silences as the capricious sprites bewitch the maiden Marguerite.

The Dance of the Sylphs depicts Faust being lulled to sleep by a chorus of gnomes and sylphs in a sylvan glade. The RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra created this dream-like atmosphere with its gentle rocking rhythms, soothing us like the sleeping Faust. This was soon cut short by the boisterous strains of the Hungarian or “Rákóczy” March. Berlioz took an artistic liberty with Goethe’s text primarily in order to fit in this bracing tune where the hero sees the Hungarian army crossing the plains. And bracing it certainly was, with its vigorous horns and mighty interjections from the trombones and tuba. Stutzmann captured both the excitement and the triumph here with a lively control of dynamics.

Bruch’s ever-popular and much-loved Violin Concerto no. 1 in G minor was a source of frustration for the composer during his lifetime, done out of royalties on account of accepting a one-off payment for the work and then being remembered for this single work despite his many other compositions. It’s a sumptuous work and one of the challenges is to bring freshness to its interpretation given how popular it is. And this is what the fiercely talented, and frightfully young (only 18 years old) Swedish violinist Daniel Lozakovich managed to do in spades. There was a touching vulnerability to his deeply sensitive opening, as it throbbed with vibrato. He was plainly not interested in showing off at all, anywhere in the concerto or in the encores but in revealing what the music has to say with extraordinary depth and poetry. It was a revelation, as if hearing this wondrous concerto for the very first time. He attacked his double-stops with vim and no little vigour and with razor-like accuracy. Stutzmann and the NSO, sensing greatness in their midst, responded brilliantly, the tremolandos thrilling with intensity and there was real bite to the syncopated accents before it melts into the major key.

I was much struck by Lozakovich’s control and breath of dynamics: the hushed G which opens the Adagio was exquisitely beautiful, the ppp coming from nowhere, the whole hall listening intently. While in the powerful climax of this same movement he was perfectly capable of singing above the fortissimo of the orchestra. The third movement rippled with energy, the crescendos masterfully guided by Stutzmann and the tenths nailed perfectly by Lozakovich.

It was Schumann’s “Rhenish” Symphony after the interval, bursting into life with fulsome strings and triumphant brass in the opening movement Lebhaft. Stutzmann controlled the tension expertly with hushed tremolandos before exploding into a victorious return of the main theme. I am regularly struck by Stutzmann’s ability to shape each phrase so musically, whether in the sweep of the Ländler-style Scherzo or the expressive slow movement. There was gravitas to the stately portentous brass declarations in the solemn fourth movement while the last movement thrilled to the bugling of trumpets, the cajoling strings and triumphant brass bringing this memorable concert to a terrific conclusion.

*****