The Ulster Orchestra under its principal conductor, JoAnn Faletta, opened the Ulster Bank Festival at Queen’s with an attractive collage of music from the Americas, North and South.
The choice reflected the pedigree of the person on the podium but I wonder if Ms Faletta is in danger of becoming typecast in Belfast for programmes of a rather non-substantial nature.
There is an immediate ‘hit’ with this sort of music — a feelgood factor that is undeniable.
Ms Faletta treated Bernstein’s brassy opener, Three Dance Episodes from On The Town, with unexpected understatement, bringing out the Copland –esque features of the second piece. Copland’s Three Latin American Sketches was an appropriate follow-up. These snapshots sounded bright and clear, less obviously brash than the Bernstein, but they could have had more spirited performances.
There can be few UK-based pianists more suited to the bluesy, jazz inspired colours of Gershwin’s Rhapsody In Blue than Joanna MacGregor. She brought out the best in this original version, allowing the big melodies to breathe with subtlety. The same appealing approach to Gershwin’s I Got Rhythm variations was equally effective in MacGregor’s hands; she caught the catchy humour to sparkling perfection.
Piazzolla’a Tangazo-Variations seemed moody by comparison as it unfolded its dark theme.
The Ulster Orchestra’s transparent and lucid sound was suitable for this type of music, as also evidenced in Danzon No.2 by Marquez, if perhaps needing tighter rhythmic bite.