For those who did brave the wet and cold Dublin weather, the golden voice of Irish soprano Ailish Tynan warmed us to the heart while conductor Anja Bihlmaier’s rendition of Brahms' Symphony no.1 was positively fiery.

Ailish Tynan
© Benjamin Ealovega

The theme of hearkening back to previous composers or another era united all the works on the programme. Contemporary composer Anders Hillborg's Exquisite Corpse made use of quotations from Stravinsky, Sibelius and Ligeti. Strauss’ Four Last Songs were composed in 1948 but they are rich in decadent, romantic harmonies of the late German romantic movement, while Brahms’ Symphony no. 1 hearkens back to Beethoven.

It was the Irish premiere for leading Swedish composer Hillborg. In Exquisite Corpse the composer was trying to “combine disparate material from [his] own pieces as well as from other composers.” It opened with thin woodwind piping in seconds with a flutter on the harp. Deep, sepulchral sounds created an eerie atmosphere as did the powerful crescendos. The strings screeched, dissipating with a gong of doom. Towards the end the rhythmic outbursts and ostinatos had echoes of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. Bihlmaier kept a tight rein on the tricky cross rhythms steering the RTÉ NSO through this unusual musical landscape.

It was a pleasant relief to be brought into the mellifluous sound world of Strauss. I was immediately struck by the mesmerising quality of Ailish Tynan’s voice. In Frühling she soared elegantly against the warm lush sounds from the strings. September was beautifully sung, capturing the peaceful resignation of the passing of this life. At times, in the lower register, it was difficult to hear her above the orchestra but these concerns were soon swept away as she captivated us with her velvet tone from her mid-range upwards. Tynan took a more meditative approach to Beim Schlafengehen and in the highly expressive third verse her heartfelt phrases were little short of magical. The final song, Im Abendrot is based on a poem by Joseph von Eichendorff. The NSO opened with a burst of warm colour before allowing Tynan to caress our ears as she hovered above the ‘still land’.

Bihlmaier took a lively, almost fighting approach to Brahms’ First Symphony. The pounding of the opening timpani, while undoubtedly imposing, was a shade too dominant. But there was no doubting the majestic, Brahmsian sound she elicited from the NSO with imperial crescendos and jagged rhythmic vitality. There was explosive excitement to the antiphonal exchanges and syncopated rhythms, while just before the recapitulation she imbued each modulation with fiery excitement.

The Andante sostenuto was as fast as I have heard it being played. The phrases flowed but, at times, it needed more space to breathe. The solo violin at the end lacked the stillness and peace on account of the hurried pace. There was a charming lightness to the woodwind in the third movement as Bihlmaier captured the gracious spirit of this movement to a tee.

There was great tension with the pizzicato to start the finale and the accelerando and crescendo were effectively done. The main, hymn-like melody was suave, noble and flowing. Again, Bihlmaier took this at a fine, fast pace. Exhilarating, it certainly was and excitement rippled throughout the work but at times I longed for a more measured approach to bring out the full complexity of the contrapuntal, antiphonal texture and not to rush over it.