Friday 09 February

Debussy, Poulenc, Prokofiev

RTÉ National Symphony Orchestra

Time 7:30pm
National Concert Hall Dublin

Tickets: from €15

  • Duncan Ward
  • Alexander Bernstein 
  • Fiachra Garvey 
  • Debussy
    Jeux; poème dansé / 17’
  • Poulenc
    Concerto for 2 Pianos in D minor / 20’
  • Prokofiev
    Symphony No. 5 in B-flat / 46’

SOUNDINGS: 6.30pm Conductor Duncan Ward and pianists Alexander Bernstein and Fiachra Garvey in conversation with Paul Herriott

Three evocative works composed at the height of summer offer a tennis match in the form of an energetic ballet, an eclectic concerto for two pianos brimming with wit, and a symphony that celebrates ‘the greatness of the human spirit’. On the podium is the British conductor Duncan Ward ­– ‘one of the most engaging, intriguing and exciting young talents; a real star for the future’ (BBC Radio 3) ­– with rising pianists – Alexander Bernstein and Fiachra Garvey – joining forces at the keyboard for a sparkling display of virtuosity and fun.

Debussy’s last work for orchestra, Jeux (‘Games’) was composed in mid-summer in 1912 and depicts a tennis match between a boy and two girls while also hinting at physical activities that have little to do with sport. Commissioned for the legendary dancer and choreographer Nijinsky, it was acclaimed as a masterpiece by Stravinsky (the premiere of whose The Rite of Spring a fortnight after Jeux’s first performance would provoke a near riot and re-write the future of classical music). A characteristic work of undulating, liquid contours and watercolour tones, it is marked by percussive effects and constant changes of pace mimicking the progress of the duelling tennis players.

Few concertos are as excitable, eclectic or ebullient as Poulenc’s for two pianos. Composed in three movements in 1932, it was written in the heat-hazed heart of the summer. Perhaps that reflects its startling opening. Marked ‘Rowdy-Sleazy-Rowdy-Exotic’, its muscular contest between the two instruments – with clashing episodes contrasted by moments of sweet poetic repose – certainly seems to bear that out. By contrast, the middle movement pays homage to Mozart with a glancing allusion to the lyrical poise of Elvira Madigan (Piano Concerto in C, K467), while the finale is an exotic affair richly perfumed with gamelan-like tones and the heady tincture of a romantic tryst.

Prokofiev described his Fifth Symphony as ‘a symphony of the greatness of the human spirit; a song of praise of free and happy mankind’. Composed in 1944 just as the fortunes of the war were turning, its premiere in Moscow in January the following year was accompanied by the distant cacophony of artillery shells as the German army began its retreat from the Soviet capital. Performed in America within a matter of months, its success there echoed the acclaim it had received at home and earned Prokofiev the coveted cover of Time magazine.