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CLASSICAL REVIEW: Ulster Orchestra Recital
Culture Northern Ireland
By Philip Hammond
I prefer a personal approach to concert presentation, and John Toal's introductions to BBC Radio Three's live afternoon concert from the Ulster Hall are immediately involving. Maybe the Ulster Orchestra should think about this for its subscription concert series?
Equally involving is the vigorous conducting style of Belfast-born Courtney Lewis in Martinu's anguished Double Concerto for String Orchestra, Timps, Piano and Strings. In this dramatic three movement work, Lewis sustains the forward drive while allowing the more expansive moments to resonate. Ben Dawson deserves a special bow for his dynamic contribution at the piano.
It's easy to see why the 26-year old Lewis is pursuing a meaningful career for himself in the United States, where he is already Associate Conductor with the Minnesota Symphony and Founder/Director of the Discovery Ensemble in Boston.
Lewis imbues his performances with outbursts of flashy, pumping energy contrasted with relenting moments of reflection and, on this occasion, a stage rearrangement allows him, in conversation with Toal, to present himself as an attractive personality in the making. Again, it's a welcome moment of communicative involvement for the audience.
Nicolas Altstaedt is a stunning soloist in Haydn's Cello Concerto in C. Lewis sets a pace that highlights the two in the bar flow; Altstaedt's rich tone rises to the challenge. Technically assured, the soloist reveals and revels in the fireworks of the first and final movements, capturing the attention with two short but intriguing cadenzas. A poised second movement pulses with this young soloist's sheer musicality and dispels any thoughts of dull, stuffy Classicism.
Perhaps less flirtatiously, Veronika Eberle 'follows that', as they say, with Dvorák's Violin Concerto. She leaves me in no doubt, however, that these BBC New Generation artists are more than a cut above the average.
Eberle takes the Romantic gestures of the music its catchy lilting rhythms, its lengthy melodic contours, in her stride and produces a wonderfully mature and stylistic sound that undemonstratively conveys the mostly sunny current of the concerto. Burbling woodwinds herald the opening of Ravel's Tombeau de Couperin.
As expected, this is a colourful performance from the Ulster Orchestra under Lewis' baton, which again highlights the surges of bright orchestral sonorities, and hints at the delicate splashes of instrumental timbres so cleverly balanced sectionally in Ravel's orchestration. Courtney Lewis is clearly a capable, intelligent and musical conductor with loads of energy to spare. His is a name to watch.