SAO PAULO SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA
NATIONAL CONCERT HALL, dublin
On its first visit here, the São Paulo Symphony Orchestra makes its NCH debut under the baton of its cherished principal conductor Marin Alsop, who through her grand-maternal ancestry, became an Irish citizen last week.
The orchestra's programme is basically a showpiece affair but nothing wrong with that when it is so superbly executed.
It begins with a short tone poem – Terra Brasilis – by Brazil's Clarice Assad and, from a shimmering opening, this fantasia for large orchestra shows many and varied influences.
Mixing European with Brazilian elements from Ms Assad's kaleidoscopic palette, threads from Arabic, Chinese and Jewish tapestries are in the weave as well before being ingeniously knitted into the Brazilian national anthem. The São Paulo players give the clever nationalistic essay their unconditional all.
The finger-clicking that sets in train Leonard Bernstein's Symphonic Dances from his Broadway hit West Side Story returns at various points during this pulsating nine-section concert suite.
A connection between composer and conductor stems from Bernstein's mentoring Alsop during her Tanglewood and New York apprenticeships and now, with her intently responsive musicians, she brings added dimensions of external vitality and internal beauty to the colourful score.
Expressive solos from horn and oboe as well as plaintive trumpet calls mark the haunting 'Somewhere' episode but Ms Alsop, pictured, remains remarkably cool in the boisterous excesses of 'Mambo' and 'Rumble'. There is restraint in the plucked strings and sultry clarinets of 'Cha-cha' while the final reprise of 'Somewhere' unites cantabile strings and sighing oboes in consoling reverie.
However, Mahler's First Symphony consolidates the consummate artistry of the Brazilian visitors. The highly descriptive first movement brings a marvellous sense of the awakening of spring with delicate wisps of woodwind suggesting the cuckoo's distinctive cries. Alsop and her orchestra elicit the inherent delicacy of Mahler's scoring as well as its occasionally brash indulgence.
Marin Alsop chooses a nicely flowing tempo for the Scherzo's swaying momentum while her excellently judged pace allows the mildly funereal slow movement to process with dignified gait.
This control makes the storm of the Mahler's Finale all the more electrifying. With remarkable dynamic range, the São Paulo's strings can murmur the gentlest pianissimi while its solid brass, including seven golden horns, resound in a triumphant blaze of gloriously rounded tone.
But throughout this concert the São Paulo Symphony plays with both exceptional brilliance and deeply rooted musical feeling.