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Review: Barry Douglas

FINE pianist though he is, over the past few years Barry Douglas has been diverting his career towards the conductor's rostrum.

And for this performance at the National Concert Hall he rolls both disciplines into one as both the RTE National Symphony Orchestra's (NSO) soloist and director.

The concerto he has chosen is 'Brahms's Second', which is a four-movement work.

While the Concerto's opening is beguilingly serene, the piece soon develops into an expansively argumentative dialogue between piano and orchestra.

Here Douglas's assertive tone has unusual weight that can be harsh and abrasive, but he certainly produces enormous strength and energy in the 'Allegro' first movement. The RTE NSO responds in equal measure.

Occasionally one craves sharper articulate clarity, but successfully keeping one eye on his keyboard and the other directing his disparate band is the Herculean labour that Douglas overcomes with satisfying skill.

Brahms relaxes grandiose gesture in his somewhat capering 'Finale', where Douglas creates a nice, playful atmosphere. In the concerto's earlier 'Andante,' Martin Johnson's cello solos surround the pianist's central dramatic trills and tensions with idyllic sensitivity.

After Brahms, Douglas and the NSO revel in music from Prokofiev's 'Romeo and Juliet' ballet.

Conducting without a score as he had done in the concerto, Douglas brilliantly sketches the composer's highly descriptive pictures in their swing between carnival and catastrophe.

Rival families strut pompously, swains swagger impetuously, lovers dally amorously but tragedy strikes fiercely and Douglas ensures exacting performances from his musicians.