Friday, March 3, 2022

National Concert Hall, Earlsfort Terrace, Dublin, Ireland

“Behold, the sea…”, Walt Whitman’s words that open Vaughan Williams’s A Sea Symphony – not that work on this occasion if signalling that Leonard Slatkin, on his latest visit to Dublin, brought an oceanic programme, opening with the tempestuous and tender Overture to Wagner’s The Flying Dutchman, given an elemental and expressive outing of increasing tension to feed the theatre of one’s mind, and he started the concert’s second half with Mendelssohn’s The Hebrides (Fingal’s Cave), scenic and stormy, glowing with affection, lovely clarinet contributions, and no lingering with the closing bars – a snapshot of a place Mendelssohn experienced first-hand – followed by Debussy’s La mer (Slatkin’s St Louis/Telarc recording of it is one of the best) given with a fine blend of incident, symphonism and personal touches: exquisite cellos during the first movement that concluded momentously, a bubbly second that became impassioned, and a dramatic final tableau as sea and wind whip things up (with two of the four ad lib fanfares included) leading to a crushing coda, Nature victorious.

The National Symphony Orchestra (now affiliated to the National Concert Hall rather than RTÉ), playing in a manner that suggested its members were delighted to once again be working with their American guest, offered splendid support for Jennifer Johnston in Elgar’s Sea Pictures (1899). The poetry, by different authors, may now seem a little antiquated but it inspired some terrific music and mezzo Johnston’s singing was as vivid to the texts as to the music as well as finding contralto-like depth of tone when required complemented by much conductorial consideration to shape and detail, an expansive reading overall, emotionally ideal for ‘Where Corals Lie’, a lyrical gem. Of the final setting, ‘The Swimmer’, it is said to bear musical resemblance to Jerry Herman’s ‘Hello Dolly!’ – not something I would have recognised, but it’s true (I’m looking forward to the long-delayed release of “Barbra Streisand sings Edward Elgar”) – a flag-waving number here made noble, the singer given judicious mooring-room by Slatkin to come through without having to force, Elgarian waves ridden with elegance.

Looking forwards, it’s sad to report that Dublin, and Lyon, are these days the nearest that Slatkin gets to London, yet he was a regular for years with all five of the capital’s symphony orchestras, numerous concerts & recordings. It would be good to think, given next year brings the conductor’s eightieth-birthday, that at least one of those ensembles would reconnect with him. Meanwhile, Slatkin remains in Dublin for a further NSO concert, on March 10, of Joan Tower, Cindy McTee, Leonard Bernstein, and Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No.3 with Olga Kern.