Indian Summer

Ulster Orchestra triumphantly reprises late works by Strauss and Beethoven.

As the opening of The Great Dame draws ever closer, the Ulster Orchestra takes a step back to perform works from the Indian Summer of composer Richard Strauss' illustrious career as well as material from Wagner and Beethoven. 

Joining the orchestra at Belfast’s Waterfront Hall are two of the UK’s most seasoned musicians, oboist Nicholas Daniel and horn player David Pyatt, who both perform concertos which present devilish technical challenges to both soloist and orchestra.

The concert opens with the restless, tortured soul that is Wagner’s 'A Faust Overture'. It is a piece that continually searches to find itself, characterised predominantly by the ever moving bass strings and sombre key of D minor - perhaps the piece is a metaphor for a composer still searching for his own artistic path while being inspired by old masters including Beethoven and Berlioz. 

An interesting work, there are few surprises, while at the same time it presents the audience with a dramatic urgency that provokes you to keep listening. Montgomery takes the orchestra through the overture with one eye on Wagner and the other on the work’s metaphorical undertones, giving a strong and defined performance. The piece is certainly the work of a young composer, not fully comfortable with his own abilities, but who was certainly on his way.

In contrast, Richard Strauss’ 'Oboe Concerto', completed over 80 years later, shows a seasoned composer, fully competent in his mastery of orchestration and instrumental writing. Without doubt one of the most challenging pieces in the instrument’s repertoire, oboist Nicholas Daniel displays total artistic command of the music, giving a performance of astounding accuracy and technical alchemy. 

The piece is a ‘fiddly’ mix of beautiful lyric and pastoral writing juxtaposed with a penchant for angular and tricky musical figures (particularly in the opening bars). In music which presents its own challenges for the musicians of the orchestra, they give an exciting performance complimenting Daniel’s technical merit, achieving what will surely be looked on as one of the season’s great highlights.

This high standard continued with David Pyatt’s performance of Strauss’ 'Second Horn Concerto', again one of the repertoire’s most difficult challenges. Written just a few years before his 'Oboe Concerto', the piece vividly displays both the composer’s fondness for the instrument his father played, as well as a return to the music of his predecessors. 

It’s neo-classical forms represent a composer in his twilight years looking back to the old masters, a tip of the hat to Mozart who himself contributed four concertos to the horn’s repertoire. Although perhaps slightly less flamboyant than the previous work, the piece presents a fantastic display of the instrument’s capabilities, while still flaunting its more subtle charms for the soloist, concluding in a brilliant rush to the final bar.

It is fitting that such an ambitious concert concludes with one of classical music’s great symphonies- Beethoven wrote the 'Symphony No. 8 'in his own ‘Indian Summer’, but it which could have easily been written by a composer still in the prime of life.

The work is an enigma among standard symphonies of the time, always surprising the listener with quirky homages and shifting expectations - a musical ‘jack in the box’. 

Full of energy and excitement, the orchestra’s performance is in keeping with the rest of evening’s thrilling music - an enjoyable experience for both musicians and audience alike. 

Graeme Stewart