This was a concert that did more than merely appeal to our sympathies, however: it covered a wide range of styles from the baroque to the mid-20th-century, and presented playing of youthful enthusiasm and disciplined ensemble. Perhaps the finest performance of the evening was heard at the close in a hypnotically tense interpretation of Martinu's Double Concerto for strings, timpani and piano. It perfectly focused O'Riordan's interpretative personality, but at the same time confirmed a reservation that one had felt throughout the rest of the programme.
Here is a conductor of considerable vigour and high-tension expression who communicates through an almost aggressively sweeping beat. This proved ideally suited to the anger and protest of Martinu's splendid concerto, in effect a rousing response to the Nazi occupation of the composer's native Czechoslovakia, but elsewhere it brought problems. Small doubts began to grow at the outset in Stravinsky's Concerto in D, for while serving sharp-edged, insistent textures well, her hard-driving approach denied the possibilities of contrast available in more lyric passages. The exquisitely chordal central episode in the first movement, for instance, refused to yield an inch and remained stubbornly detached.
This was a characteristic that was borne out in what was her least successful performance, an over-hasty run-through of Mozart's Divertimento in F K138 which, despite the eager participation of her fine young players, degenerated into a fast-forward projection. The notes were there, just, but paragraphs could barely breathe.
Schoenberg's Verklarte Nacht also suffered at times from O'Riordan's rather unrelenting stick technique. Rubato was achieved between sections but not within the sections themselves, and complex contrapuntal processes were urged forward in a way that tended towards the mechanistic and so denied individual lines their flexibility and independence. The playing was fine, nevertheless, and many moments impressed, like the ravishing F sharp major section in Part 2, which was characterised with a rapt sensitivity.
Her response to motor rhythm, which yielded such an exciting result with the Martinu, was also appropriately geared to Vivaldi's Concerto in G Minor, and the greater success of the second half of the programme was further enhanced by the unscheduled appearance of the legendary Russian harpist Vera Doulova. She had been appearing with the orchestra at St David's Hall, Cardiff, and at the last minute was persuaded to entertain us with a little group of pieces by Glazunov, Tchaikovsky and Minkus. Her vitality proved infectious.Reuse content