Until earlier this month I hadn’t heard the Hibernian Orchestra for quite some time. I was actually drawn to its latest event at the National Concert Hall by its soloist, French pianist Nathalia Milstein. She took first prize in the 2015 Dublin International Piano Competition when, for once, I agreed with the jury’s verdict.
Mlle Milstein has come back to Ireland on a number of occasions including a nationwide tour under the auspices of Music Network as part of her DIPC prize. She also returned to the NCH in May 2018 playing Mozart’s K 488 Concerto with the RTÉ NSO. This time, with the Hibernian Orchestra, her concerto choice was Chopin’s E minor Op 11. Her playing was magical.
Chopin was barely 20 when he completed the concerto, in fact his second in order of composition, but published before his F Minor, which has the Opus Number 21. Chopin had the E Minor in his luggage when he left Poland en route, as he thought, to England. However finding himself in Vienna he obtained a passport to Paris, where he lived until his death from tuberculosis in 1849. Playing the E Minor Concerto in one of his early concerts in the French capital, the Parisian audience loved it and judging by Nathalia Milstein’s performance, there is no doubt about her grá for the work as well.
The opening Allegro maestoso found her etching its main theme with expressive grandeur. Nathalia Milstein had a lovely way of emphasising Chopin’s melodic lines with both clarity and elegance. While the movement has a lengthy orchestral introduction, neatly phrased by the Hibernian players, once the soloist gets going there is hardly a moment’s respite.
Words to heart
In the central Larghetto, Mlle Milstein’s playing was particularly gentle and graceful. Belleek china crossed my mind and obviously Nathalia Milstein took Chopin’s words to heart, “not meant to be loud, it is more of a romance, quiet with melancholy. It should give the impression of gazing tenderly at a place, which recalls a thousand dear memories. It is a sort of meditation in beautiful spring weather, but by moonlight”.
The orchestra was nicely unobtrusive but rightly assertive when the music demanded in the concluding Rondo. With Polish folkdance rhythms to the fore, the movement is highly agreeable and Nathalia Milstein, with the Hibernian Orchestra under John Finucane’s inspired direction, extracted its musical essence perfectly.
The evening’s symphony was Rachmaninov’s Second. Containing almost an hour’s music, the ‘big play’ piece is a challenge for any orchestra. Happy to relate, the Hibernian ensemble came through with flying colours.
Maybe the strings needed a little more body here and there and the tinkle of the glockenspiel in the Scherzo was a little swamped but these are only minor details in what was a terrific interpretation of the composer’s masterpiece.
Under Maestro Finucane, the lengthy Adagio was unfolded with impassioned purpose, conveying Rach-maninov’s romantic vision with flowing momentum that had majestic bearing. The exuberant Finale showed the Hibernians’ confidence remaining intact to the ebullient concluding bars.
Indeed, a richly satisfying concert.