sun 16/06/2024

Gomyo, National Symphony Orchestra, Kuokman, National Concert Hall, Dublin review - painful brilliance around a heart of darkness | reviews, news & interviews

Gomyo, National Symphony Orchestra, Kuokman, National Concert Hall, Dublin review - painful brilliance around a heart of darkness

Gomyo, National Symphony Orchestra, Kuokman, National Concert Hall, Dublin review - painful brilliance around a heart of darkness

A violinist for all facets of a towering Shostakovich masterpiece

Karen Gomyo: full palette for ShostakovichIrene Zandel

No soloist gets to perform Shostakovich’s colossal First Violin Concerto without mastery of its fearsome technical demands. But not all violinists have the imagination to colour and inflect the Hamlet-like monologue of its withdrawn first movement, or the madness of a 20th century Lear in its poleaxing cadenza, a movement in itself. From her first, deeply eloquent phrases, Karen Gomyo told us that she was one of the few who could.

It’s vital not to have one violin sound, however impressive, for the kaleidoscope of sadness, rage, despair and manic exultation Shostakovich gifted to the great David Oistrakh. Gomyo constrantly surprised with a new tone, a sweetness that could turn to acid strength however much of the orchestra was pitted against her (and what sounds from the woodwind choruses, keenly driven by Lio Kuokman, in what is surely meant as a bitter survival-dance for the Jewish people in the finale). The memorial song above the inflexible passacaglia theme in the cathartic third movement, the screwing-up to mania of that insane cadenza – at the end of which Gomyo still didn’t seem to have broken a sweat, despite the ferocious intensity – and the head held high throughout the final orgy of defiance: could you ask for more? Lio KuokmanShostakovich’s stampedes in scherzo and finale are acidic, but not overscored. Whereas the Festive Overture of 1954 – easier to write with Stalin in the grave, though in his serious work the composer tells us all is far from well in the USSR – chucks all the fanfares and lurid songs it can at us within its brief span. The brass raised the roof in the excellent but frighteningly alive acoustics of the National Concert Hall, and turned intermittently vicious in the far more equivocal Shrovetide Fair antics of crowd and puppet-booth inhabitants of Stravinsky’s Petrushka.

The tireless hero here was trumpeter Richard Blake, doubling complacent ballerina and her tortured admirer, while the trombones rasped the menace of the Moor (a dodgy proposition in Fokine’s choreography, but the no-let-up storytelling in the concert hall doesn’t trouble us). Kuokman (pictured above by Tey Tat Keng) favoured high speed, disconcertingly so in the evening revels; the Wet Nurses’ Dance nearly fell apart at the start, but the impetus eventually paid off, and the strings were in full, focused attack mode. What a concert for orchestra this is; the excellent NSO wind principals all deserve a credit, and they’re all on fine form. It’s a shame that their inspiring, toweringly personable Chief Conductor Jaime Martín leaves at the end of this season – there will be  a gap season before a replacement emerges - but the brilliant sound is there for any other conductor up to the mark to wield as he or she will.

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