Wednesday 17 January 2018


RTE national symphony orchestra

national concert hall, dublin

There is a double valediction in the latest RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra concert under principal conductor Alan Buribayev. The first sees violinist Alan Smale's twenty-year reign as NSO leader coming to an end, while the second brings the conclusion of the Orchestra's diverse 2012/3 Subscription Season.

It is an emotional event for Smale, with Uachtarán na hÉireann Michael D Higgins on hand to honour the occasion.

Devon-born Smale came to RTÉ in 1977 as co-leader of its Symphony Orchestra, a position he held until 1984 when he 'migrated' to its Concert Orchestra where, as leader, he presided over its transformation from studio ensemble to fully-fledged concert-giving band.

Smale returned to the Symphony Orchestra as concertmaster in 1993, since when his dedication to his position has been an inspiration to conductors, colleagues and audiences.

A man of catholic taste in music, his exacting role in the NSO's first desk has not precluded stalwart membership of the contemporary group Concorde and the more classically minded Degani Ensemble in which he acts as leader/director.

Smale's farewell comes through Shostakovich's magisterial 5th Symphony of 1937. Written in the aftermath of official condemnation of his opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District as unwholesome, cheap, coarse and primitive, the Symphony, like much of the composer's music, portrays striking opposites where ironic laughter can jeer in the face of tyrannical oppression.

Maestro Buribayev's incisive interpretation elucidates the extreme facets of Shostakovich's visionary canvas and draws exemplary precision from his musicians.

His direction also shows the capacity of the NSO players to deliver an extraordinary range of instrumental colour be this through sombre woodwind, sighing strings or braying brass in the Symphony's prophetic militaristic and malevolent utterances.

But there are also passages of benevolent subtlety not least in Smale's nicely paced solo towards the end of the first movement and in his teasing japes in the Scherzo that recall Stravinsky's mocking Petrushka.

But through Buribayev's imaginative realisation, Shostakovich's vision of the triumph of man over pernicious adversity reaches its exultant conclusion.

Smale could hardly have chosen a more significant tour de force to vacate the symphonic milieu that has been the focus of his musical life in his adopted country.

Irish Independent

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