Franz Schu­bert — bring­ing mu­sic to life

Irish Independent - Weekend Review - - & -

Deep in the bow­els of the Ra­dio Cen­tre in Dublin’s Don­ny­brook sits Stu­dio One. Much larger than the oth­ers that line the walls of the two par­al­lel cor­ri­dors on its flanks, Stu­dio One is a per­for­mance space, home to the RTÉ Con­cert Or­ches­tra when it’s hon­ing its pro­gramme, with room for an au­di­ence of al­most a hun­dred, should the oc­ca­sion de­mand it.

One such was the visit of the RTÉ Na­tional Sym­phony Or­ches­tra to play live on The Hamil­ton Scores. It was a bank hol­i­day Satur­day, and they’d tuned up to de­liver a kind of a mu­si­cal Cook’s tour, play­ing pieces from the places I talk about on the ra­dio show.

We headed through Eng­land (El­gar’s Sa­lut d’Amour) to France (Of­fen­bach’s Bar­carolle), be­fore catch­ing up with a Span­ish bull­fighter (the tore­ador from Bizet’s Car­men).

Then, it was across the Med for some Ital­ian sun­shine (Men­delssohn’s Fourth Sym­phony), be­fore turn­ing back to­wards Ger­many (a Beethoven Ro­mance), swing­ing east to what’s now the Czech Repub­lic (one of Dvo­rak’s Slavonic Dances).

A broad, anti-clock­wise loop then took us up via Scan­di­navia (Fin­lan­dia by Si­belius), be­fore touch­ing down on home soil for the fi­nale — Danny Boy in the sump­tu­ous ar­range­ment by our own much-missed Euro­vi­sion Song Con­test vet­eran Noel Kele­han.

Back to Stu­dio One in the Ra­dio Cen­tre, where the au­di­ence is on a bal­cony over­look­ing the stage. I got to sit fac­ing them, right be­side the con­duc­tor that lunchtime, Gavin Maloney.

What blew me away was the sheer en­ergy that comes from a live band, the ab­so­lute ex­hil­a­ra­tion as the tempo picks up, the strings drive the mo­men­tum, the brass makes bold state­ments, and the wood­wind dances its way along a mes­meric path.

That could have been de­scrib­ing a record­ing I heard re­cently of the Swedish Cham­ber Or­ches­tra in ac­tion, launch­ing into a spell­bind­ing in­ter­pre­ta­tion of Franz Schu­bert’s Sym­phony No 5.

Un­der its long-time direc­tor, the Dan­ish mae­stro Thomas Daus­gaard, who is soon to be­gin his fi­nal sea­son in the po­si­tion af­ter over two decades in charge, there is a thrilling vi­tal­ity about the per­for­mance.

The sym­phony de­mands as much. The com­poser was only 19 when he wrote it, dur­ing a pe­riod in his de­vel­op­ing ca­reer when he was look­ing back at the glory of Mozart, his mu­si­cal hero.

There are plenty of al­lu­sions to Wolf­gang Amadeus. This par­tic­u­lar sym­phony prob­a­bly best cap­tures the ur­gency so key to Mozart’s 40th.

Schu­bert strug­gled to get a hear­ing for his sym­phonies in his life­time. Vi­enna, his home­town, with over 100 of Joseph Haydn’s sym­phonies to stage, and Mozart de­mand­ing at­ten­tion, too, had plenty of big set pieces to be go­ing on with.

So Schu­bert made his liv­ing from songs, set­ting to mu­sic pop­u­lar po­ems, and turn­ing him­self into a gi­ant of the Lieder genre in the process.

He only lived to be 31, but in that time he’d pro­duced nine sym­phonies, as well as every­thing else. Beethoven, who was 26 years older, and be­strode the Vi­en­nese scene like a colos­sus when Schu­bert was around, was only get­ting started on his first sym­phony at a sim­i­lar stage in his ca­reer.

Schu­bert, the mas­ter of the Lieder, wrote a mean sym­phony, too. Orches­tral mu­sic with a feel-good fac­tor, full of the en­ergy and ex­cite­ment that made that lunchtime in Stu­dio One an oc­ca­sion to re­mem­ber.

Ge­orge Hamil­ton presents The Hamil­ton Scores on RTÉ lyric fm from 10am each Satur­day and Sun­day

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