Master pianist Barry Douglas conducts works by Mozart at St Peter's Cathedral
Earlier this year, Belfast pianist Barry Douglas and his orchestra Camerata Ireland made a triumphant appearance at New York's Carnegie Hall. They bring substantially the same programme to this performance at St Peter's Cathedral as part of Féile an Phobail 2011.
With Camerata, Douglas is a musical multi-tasker, switching with seasoned nonchalance between playing, accompanying and conducting duties. Facing the orchestra at his Steinway, back to the audience, his solo work in Mozart's 'Piano Concerto No. 23' is ripplingly spontaneous, the sense of interplay with Camerata palpable.
Douglas nudges, nods and cajoles the players through the effervescent dialogue of the outer movements. Some of the finer instrumental detail is lost in the washy cathedral acoustic, but that is no fault of the musicians.
In the wistfully introspective 'Adagio', the strong romantic streak in Douglas's pianistic nature surfaces with considerable flexibility of tempo and some melting phrasing. Camerata's wind soloists excel throughout the concerto in Mozart's witty, hyperactive writing for the section.
Hyperactivity of a more unsettling nature characterises 'Symphony 40', one of Mozart's darkest, most intense utterances. Douglas emphasises the nervy agitation of the string figurations in the outer movements, rightly focusing on the work's emotional restlessness and uncompromising seriousness of purpose.
The strings alone are spotlighted in what is probably the stand-out moment of the evening artistically, a raptly concentrated account of Barber's heart-searching 'Adagio', beautifully shaped by Douglas, and astutely paced to avoid the maudlin impression this music can make if played too slowly.
There is plenty of lighter relief also: a scurrying Rossini overture ('The Silken Ladder'), with superbly agile contributions from Camerata's violinists; Edward Bunting's 'Druid Dances' (from Irish harp originals, orchestrated by Douglas); and a dreamy orchestration (Douglas again) of a John Field Nocturne.
Naas-born soprano, Celine Byrne, makes two appearances, first in a brace of Mozart arias highlighting the poised evenness of her voice production, mature tonal ripeness, and a powerfully developing chest voice no doubt influenced by her studies with the great German mezzo, Christa Ludwig. She also charms in two traditional selections, 'Carrickfergus' and 'The Last Rose of Summer'.
Byrne isn't the only singer on the playbill: earlier, in a typically imaginative piece of Féile scheduling, local singer-songwriter Ursula Burns (born a stone's throw from St Peter's) played an intimate curtain-raising set of original songs from her new album Deep in the Dreaming, to her own harp accompaniment and that of Paddy Martin's uillean pipes, with Ciara O'Neill on backing vocals.
This is exactly the type of bold, genre-hopping juxtaposition that should happen often, but doesn't. A fun song in a foreign accent about a quirky pair of lovers who like visiting the Royal Victoria Hospital, rubbing shoulders with 'Porgi amor', the Countess's love-lorn lament from The Marriage of Figaro. Unusual? Yes. But Mozart had a wicked sense of humour, and would almost certainly have loved it. More power, I say, to the Féile programmers' elbow.
Browse What's On for more information on Féile an Phobail.