RSNO: SONDEGARD, SOLLIMA (Usher Hall: 18 Nov ‘16)

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 “Was this the new Russia? Who cares? The music was amazing.”

Editorial Rating:  3 Stars

“Football is a game of two halves” as the crass saying goes. The intimation is, there is a good half, and a bad half. Friday’s RSNO concert can be explained in such terms. Relatively speaking, the first half disappointed, the second enthralled.

Cellist Giovanni Sollima was the soloist for the Dvorak Cello Concerto, and, to kick the evening off, in his own piece Violoncelles, vibrez! (in fact a duo for two cellos and orchestra) he shared the soloist platform with Aleksei Kiseliov, the RSNO’s principal cellist. Written to mark the tenth anniversary of the death of Sollima’s teacher, Antonio Janigro, and dedicated to Sollima’s fellow student Mario Brunello, one might have expected a deeply personal, even reflective work. It was, however, rather light, and reminded me in places of works by Max Richter, barely in the classical genre. The first movement did contain some long melodic lines but the work was neither unpleasant nor particularly demanding. The orchestra gave good support.

Then came the Dvorak. Dvorak as a concerto composer has never satisfied me as much as his fine symphonic or string quartet writing. Plainly, the orchestration is there, but the solo pieces (less so in the violin concerto) just do not seem to fit in so well, the exact opposite, for example, of Chopin. This facet of the work was exacerbated by some less than convincing playing by Sollima. The long orchestral opening of the opening Allegro was masterfully handled by the RSNO, who played their part with relish, sometimes, indeed often to the detriment of the overall balance with the soloist. Sollima did not seem particularly in command, Sondergard was standing in at short notice. The end of the first movement, much of the second and the majority of the third were a more comfortable experience. Sollima’s encore left one in no doubt as to his virtuosity.

I was looking forward to hearing Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony again, and to see what the RSNO, in such good form this season, would make of it. They did not disappoint. Much has been said and written of the political background to the composition of this symphony under Stalin’s gaze, “A Soviet Artist’s reply to just criticism” but to me this is largely irrelevant: Shostakovich was a pragmatist, the symphony is an outstanding work and for many people its relative accessibility makes it a welcome introduction to the oeuvre of one of the twentieth century’s greatest composers.

Meticulous, sparse playing brought out all the fear and austerity suggested by the opening Moderato, quickly followed by woodwind and brass creating a marvellous, confident orchestral sound. This was just the beginning. Powerful basses and cellos introduced the subsequent Allegretto as the work grew increasingly manic. The third movement Largo was electrifying, and the Allegro non troppo finale bursting with optimism and confidence. Was this the new Russia? Who cares? The music was amazing.


Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer: Charles Stokes (Seen 18th November)