Review: Ulster Orchestra is pulling out all the stops
Ulster Hall, Belfast
The Ulster Orchestra is still on life-support financially, with no guarantee yet of the long-term funding it deserves - but its members are playing better than ever.
Friday night's concert, under the baton of star Principal Conductor Rafael Payare, was the third Ulster Hall sell-out in a row, and the enthusiasm of the capacity audience underlined clearly the popularity of this excellent orchestra.
After a boisterous performance of Smetana's The Bartered Bride, the main attraction of the first-half was how Icelandic pianist Vikingur Olafsson would tackle Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto.
The challenge of this piece is making it seem fresh, and in the pre-concert talk Colin Stark wondered if the pianist could bring out the magic of the music "beyond the notes." Olafsson succeeded superbly in one of the best Belfast performances of this piece in recent years.
The second half was devoted to the quirky Moz-Art a la Haydn, which was innovative, daring and different, and like a hallucination from another musical planet.
The Orchestra finished with a stylish and enthusiastic performance of the Shostakovich 9th Symphony, to a rapturous reception. The very best of the Ulster Orchestra is back - let's hope they can stay there.