Ulster Orchestra

Philip Hammond attends a lunchtime recital at the Ulster Hall

One of the good things about the Ulster Orchestra's relocation to the Ulster Hall is that it can now attract townsfolk to events during the day, and the continuing success of their monthly lunchtime concerts means added profile and a little additional income. In this case, everyone's a winner. Tickets cost just £5.

The programme for the lunchtime concert on Wednesday, November 11 could hardly be described as musically challenging, whilst the healthy audience attendance is simultaneously encouraging and depressing. I think of the orchestra's closing concert for the Belfast Festival this year and, Ozymandias-like, despair. Is there really no audience in Belfast for anything but the tried and tested?

Czech conductor Tomáš Hanus, meanwhile, displays no reservations about the programme. His eastern European credentials equip him to convey the high-spirited romp that is Smetana's Bartered Bride overture. The Ulster Orchestra players respond crisply to his clean technique, musical clarity and tight control of the scurrying semiquavers.

Thereafter the orchestra reduces size for an authentic approach to Mozart's teenage Symphony No.25. Again, Hanus carefully aims for sectional balance and yet brings out the energy of this early Mozart work. Without overstating the accenting, natural and imposed, Hanus creates a wonderful drive in the first movement. The Andante which follows offers a stylish contrast with its antiphonal wisps of material which Mozart masterfully threads together into what seems like one long sustained melody.

Hanus obviously has an ear for detail. His dynamic awareness is particularly pertinent in this symphony, with its instrumental colour restricted to just reeds, horns and strings.

However, the trio of the third movement is slightly messy due to one or two misjudgements from the horns. The final allegro has poise, but maybe more restraint than the earlier movements. Perhaps I am focusing too much on the horns as they expose themselves with the odd split note.

I relax again with the romantic wash of Dvorák's 'My Homeland, Op.62'. It was conceived as incidental music for a play, but stands alone nowadays as a concert piece. Opening it with a dark moodiness, Dvorák gradually introduces those germs of a more colourful Slavonic character, which eventually turn the work into a light, sunny orchestral showpiece. Hanus handles all of this with a smooth skill.

It's an entertaining way to spend a lunchtime, with nothing too indigestible on the menu.

The next Ulster Orchestra lunchtime concert is on Wednesday, December 16.


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