national concert hall, dublin
The return of the Oslo Philharmonic to the National Concert Hall after an 18-year absence brings a programme of romantic and nationalistic music. Opening with Sibelius' fervent 'Finlandia' and closing with Tchaikovsky's fledging 'First Symphony', the orchestra, under its dynamic Russian principal conductor Vasily Petrenko (right), makes Grieg's ever-popular 'Piano Concerto' its centrepiece.
The soloist is Norwegian Christian Ihle Hadland and his moderately deliberate approach to the concerto's opening flourish immediately captures the attention.
The music draws its own pastoral images through delicate rivulets and cascading torrents of pianistic phrases and both Hadland and Petrenko ensure the music enjoys unhindered passage.
Hadland's interpretation of the expressive 'Adagio' is rhapsodic and deeply thoughtful. It renews one's faith in Grieg's genius and the visiting soloist continues plying this mould of reassessment in the Finale.
Occasionally more substantial body in his attack would not go amiss, but at the same time Hadland's challenging restraint is not to be dismissed.
There are also some lovely things in the Oslo's sharply focussed accompaniment not least the rugged brass, which may reflect some of the Norwegian landscape, the contrasted sigh of the bassoon and the plaintive tones of flute and oboe.
Beforehand, the Sibelius tone poem makes a powerful overture with its commandingly stern and stentorian brass call to arms. The strong body of strings seems to snarl in the face of the Russian oppressors' yoke and, if later, they plead poignantly in Finlandia's central hymn-like paean, they express heroic defiance in the exhilarating Finale.
Tchaikovsky's First Symphony remained his favourite despite him recognising its deficiencies. And, indeed, there are some wonderful things in the symphony, which the composer entitled 'Winter Daydreams'.
Petrenko points more to the opening movement's Allegro marking than its qualifying tranquillo but, never mind, he draws effervescent sparkle from his Norwegian musicians.
Tchaikovsky's Adagio drags a little but its themes are the kind he would expand and develop with greater fluency later on.
Petrenko takes the Scherzo's waltz-trio at a charmingly leisurely pace, but he also shows the movement's Mendelssohnian influences elsewhere. The Finale's pressing fugato section may put the strings through their proverbial paces, but the end result is a triumph for all.