Review on RTE National Symphony Orchestra concert “Nordic Giants”

I attended a concert by the RTE National Symphony Orchestra yesterday. The programme for the night was:


Friday 23 January 2015, 8pm

National Concert Hall

SIBELIUS Finlandia [8′] 

GRIEG Piano Concerto in A minor [31′] 

NIELSEN Symphony No. 2, The Four Temperaments [32′] 

HOWARD SHELLEY piano/conductor

I was very drained from work and I believe that clouded my judgment and appreciation of the concert. Also, take my words with huge pinches of salt as I am a musical nob. Here’s my review of last night’s concert.

Shelley’s touch is exquisite on the piano, especially during the second movement of Grieg’s piano concerto.

The orchestra sounded like a chamber orchestra last night. What on earth happened to my beloved orchestra? From the orchestra that created many magical moments for me to this muted and tempered chamber group. Or perhaps it’s the character, style and orchestration, etc of Nordic composers, to sound like that – cold and distant (ok, except for the sanguine movement in Nielsen’s which sounded chippy and positive). So, perhaps it’s not the fault of the conductor, just my exhaustion speaking. However, I just felt that Shelley didn’t utilise the full palette of the orchestra. He didnt bring out the best from the orchestra which seemed confused. Perhaps, there wasn’t enough rehearsals? Shelley said during the pre-concert talk that he doesn’t work with other conductors except for the one, two conductor friends who persuade him to do so. It does make me wonder the reason for it. I am disappointed that the orchestra didn’t create much magic for me today. I look forward to the next one where the principal conductor Alan Buribayev returns to take up the baton.

On hindsight, I finally realised the difference a master and mediocre conductor can make on the orchestra (I am NOT saying that Shelley is mediocre). I watched bits of a youtube video where conductor Karl Bohm was rehearsing with the Vienna Philharmonic on Strauss’s Don Juan – it’s inspirational. I felt that under his directorship, he skillfully and masterfully elicited the sounds that he wanted from the orchestra.

To conclude, Shelley is clearly a very fine pianist. However, as a conductor, his style doesn’t gel with me. This is clearly my personal view as music, which is an art form, is subjective. Besides, people around me were clapping their hands off.


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