RSNO: Sondergard, Piemontesi (Usher Hall: 5 Oct. ’18)

Gustav Mahler (1860 – 1911)

“The RSNO just gets better and better”

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars:Outstanding

 

The RSNO Supporters’ Hospitality Suite was packed, the dress code considerably upscale, the auditorium full, save a few seats in the very furthest reaches of The Gods. It was opening night in Edinburgh for the RSNO 2018/19 season, and the induction of long time Principal Guest Conductor, 49 year old Dane Thomas Sondergard, as Music Director, who had celebrated his birthday the previous evening with this same programme in the Caird Hall, Dundee.

 

Expectations were clearly high and were not disappointed. We experienced an evening of real musical craftsmanship, the thoroughness, depth and preparation of the music expressed though a mixture of strong technical accomplishment accompanied by restrained, contained emotion which in this age of hyperbole made it all the more effective. Not so much “Less is More”, for there was plenty, but “thoroughness is all” rather than showmanship, particularly in the Mahler, where hearts were not worn on sleeves, but beat resonantly from within.

 

As is the RSNO’s habit, we were welcomed with a few words by a member of the string section, which in my mind achieves a helpful bond between players and audience.

 

We started the evening with a warm up, Lotta Wennakoski’s aptly named Flounce, a five-minute escapade that reminded me of a fairground ride and premiered at last year’s Proms under the baton of fellow Finn Sakari Oramo. Result? Good mood all round.

 

Piano already in situ so no delay for the next piece, except for a brief address from Sondergard himself, full of Scandinavian modesty as he spoke of his pride at becoming Musical Director after those seven years as Principal Guest Conductor.

 

Our soloist on the night was Francesco Piemontesi, perhaps best known as a proponent of Mozart and so, given the Mozartian nature of Beethoven’s first two piano concertos, and also his first two symphonies, was a profoundly logical choice.

 

As in many of his concertos, in his Piano Concerto No 2 in B flat major Beethoven keeps you waiting for the soloist’s entry with a long introduction. When Piemontesi came in, it was a natural segue rather than grand opening, emphasising the synergy between soloist and orchestra that marks the best played concertos. With very strong cadenzas Piemontesi brought verve and precision to the music with the band in taut and timely response. There was a collective (but just about silent) “… aah” from the audience as the familiar third movement Molto Allegro brought us to the work’s conclusion. I would describe this performance as perfect.

 

We were treated to a thoughtful, unexaggerated interpretation of the well known Schubert Impromptu in A flat major before retiring for the interval, a work I suspect many of us have played in our time, but nowhere near as well as this.

 

The Mahler Symphony No 5 in C sharp minor was the work we had all been waiting for, a seventy-minute epic. And it was. One’s heart went out to the trumpet soloist opening the work whose first note had just a trace of uncertainty in its first moments but then delivered a masterly performance throughout the work. I suspect few noticed, and none cared, I certainly didn’t. This is all part of the bargain of live music. In fact the orchestra’s playing throughout this very long, demanding work, was exemplary. Huge contrasts in dynamics, avoidance of sensationalism (“It’s not as loud as you play it on the HiFi” my wife remarked), brilliant pianissimi between timpani and basses, joyous chucking of the theme from strings to brass, the orchestra never tiring through this musical and emotional marathon.

 

The fourth movement Adagiotto. Sehr langsam more commonly known as “The Adagio from Mahler’s Fifth” or, worse, “Theme from Death In Venice” deserves a paragraph to itself. It was a textbook example of how this movement should be played. First, it is an Adagietto, which means very slowly, and it was at a very slow pace –  indeed, the slowest I have heard – that Thomas Sondergard guided his players through an incredibly exposed piece of scoring, in which bow and breath control, depending on the instrument, are stretched to their physical limits. Abbado does it all in a couple of seconds over nine minutes, Rattle in nine and a half. I reckon Sondergard took us to nearer ten. The result was an achingly poignant, again understated but utterly compelling interpretation of this famous musical sketch.

 

The RSNO just gets better and better. If tonight is an example of what is in store for us in the coming winter and spring, we are in for a series of real treats.

outstanding

StarStarStarStarStar

Reviewer: Charles Stokes (Seen 5 October)

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SCO. Mazzola, Frang. (Usher Hall: 27 Sept’18)

Vilde Frang
Photo: Marco Borggreve/Warner Classics

 

“It was a joyful, uplifting evening’s music.”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars Nae Bad

 

A braw Autumnal evening met me as I walked across the Meadows to the Usher Hall for the Scottish Chamber Orchestra’s 2018/19 Season Opening Concert. The programme contained Nielsen and Sibelius and I braced myself for an evening of bleak Scandinavian forests, folklore and darkness.

I could not have been more wrong. It was a joyful, uplifting evening’s music.

Of course, Robin Ticciati was not on the podium. His replacement, Maxim Emilyanychev, was not either (he comes back next week), but instead Enrique Mazzola, Artistic and Music Director of the Orchestre National d’Isle de France and Principal Guest Conductor of Deutsche Oper in Berlin returned to take up the baton. Essentially a bel canto and opera conductor, how would he cope with this Romantic and late Romantic fare? He did fine.

The more I thought about the evening’s programming the cleverer I thought it was. How many of you have heard Sibelius’s third symphony? Two and Five, of course, but this was an interesting choice. Moreover, Nielsen is known principally for his symphonies and concerti, but an overture? Cleverer still was the positioning of the star attraction, Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, along with the soloist of the evening, Vilde Frang, in the second half. So often it’s a bit of a downer when the soloist goes home before the interval and the rest of the evening feels rather flat.

First off was Nielsen’s Helios Overture. Nielsen himself said that the work needed no introduction and indeed it was a predictable (none the worse for that) evocation of sunrise somewhat in the classical genre. After the pianissimo double basses, four horns braved the introduction and were just a tiny bit shaky on their damnably difficult to play instruments, so exposed. The orchestra very quickly found its feet with all sections playing confidently with some magnificent strings, wind and brass before it drew to a close as it had started, with pianissimo basses again. It was a pleasant relief to experience the audience sitting on their hands as Mazzola held up his hand to restrain applause rather longer than one might have expected. When it came, it was enthusiastic.

On to Sibelius’s 3rd Symphony in C. Who would dream of calling a Sibelius symphony “jolly”? But it was, and none the worse for that. In the first movement there was calling woodwind, responding strings, melodious horns, all at each other’s beck and call, ending with shades of the horn call of the 5th symphony. In the second we heard melodious flutes and unalloyed joy yet in the Sibelian mode. Come the third and a darker, sombre theme with nuances of Finlandia. A useful, unusual addition to one’s knowledge of this fabulous composer.

After the interval Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in D, written a hundred years earlier than the previous two works. Nielsen was of course a Dane, Sibelius a Finn and while Beethoven undoubtedly German his interpreter tonight was another Scandinavian, the Norwegian violinist Vilde Frang. Yet this was proving to be no Scandi Noir, Frang perhaps making the point by wearing a light coloured floaty dress rather than more conventional evening colours. The work has a long orchestral introduction and to be honest Frang looked a little spare as she awaited her entry, which she then executed extremely competently and was very much in charge for the rest of the performance as she drew a great deal of tone and volume out of her modern-ish 1864 Jean-Baptiste Vuillaume. The work is so well known there is little new for the music writer to contribute, save to say the performance was fresh, committed, with gusto, a thoroughly enjoyable 45 minute’s worth from start to finish.

Throughout the performance conductor Enrique Mazzola showed quiet authority and got everything he could and should have out of the works and the players, who responded only too happily. All done with the minimum of podium histrionics.

 

nae bad_blue

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

Reviewer: Charles Stokes (Seen 27 September)

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Dunedin Consort, Vivaldi’s ‘La Favorita’ (Queen’s Hall: 6 April ’18)

Dunedin Consort: Vivaldi’s La Favorita

“The very essence of live music making”

Editorial Rating:  5 Stars: Outstanding

 

Was this going to be, if not too much of a good thing, well, just too esoteric? It was a risk, and, while the stalls were a little over half full and just a few concertgoers in the balcony, such attendance levels are not unusual at the Queen’s Hall for chamber music. With Vivaldi, take away The Four Seasons and the Gloria and what have you got? A series of mostly string concertos that all sound very similar.

 

That is the perception. Friday’s concert by Edinburgh’s own Dunedin Consort proved it wrong. A cleverly chosen selection of seven string concertos from a cache of 27 manuscript volumes of composition discovered in Northern Italy in the 1920s provided a glorious treat of baroque music that whilst not having the gravitas or structure of his German contemporary Bach was a rewarding example of the Italian Baroque, and in many ways gentler on the ear. If Bach is the master of counterpoint, then surely Vivaldi is the master of ritornello? The tutti passages are more rounded.

 

The programme was titled La Favorita and this writer’s wicked sense of humour wondered if it was sponsored by a smart Edinburgh pizza group with its blinding, wood-fired, Cinquecentos. Not so, the title would have referred to one of the star female pupils under Vivaldi’s tutelage at the Ospedale della Pietá in Venice for whom a number of these works were written, possibly the mysterious “Anna” about whom we know very little. The boys learned a trade and had to leave the orphanage when they reached the age of fifteen. The girls received a musical education, and the most talented among them stayed and became members of the Ospedale’s renowned orchestra and choir.

 

La Favorita was reincarnated in a sense in the concert by Music Director and Soloist Cecilia Bernardini, leader of the Consort, who backed by two violins, cello, bass and harpsichord led us though an assortment of musical treats that entertained from start to finish.

 

The band kicked off with “Il Corneto da Posta” (RV 363), a joyful, simple work with a highly effective interplay between soloist and cello (honourable mention to Andrew Skidmore throughout the evening) in the first movement. Each work followed the classic three movement construct that was Vivaldi’s late Baroque hallmark. The Concerto for Strings and Basso Continuo (RV156) did everything it said on the tin and was an excellent, satisfying example of the continuo genre. There followed two Violin Concertos (RVs 387 and 224) where the players brought real verve and commitment to the music that otherwise might have seemed repetitive. We were being treated to some seriously good playing by the ensemble as a whole.

 

Following the interval came three more works, the first, very much in the Venetian tradition, being played up above us in the balcony, with the exception, for logistical reasons, of the harpsichordist. Stephen Farr wittily told us that the music he was reading from his iPad was an early 18th century Venetian model. Well, I guess we were only a few days past April Fool’s day. The Violin Concerto “Il Riposo” (RV270a) was tranquil, calming, and beautiful. A further Concerto for Strings and Basso Continuo (RV 128) and Violin Concerto (RV283) and a charming pizzicato encore brought the evening to a close.

 

In trying to summarise what made this evening so special, when to many a collection of unknown minor works from a late Baroque Italian composer famous only for a couple of numbers might seem at best, obscure, I have concluded that there were two drivers. Intelligent programme selection, and – here I am again extolling the joys of live music – truly excellent, committed playing on the night. The very essence of live music making. Bravo!

 

outstanding

StarStarStarStarStar

Reviewer: Charles Stokes (Seen 6 April)

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The Sorcerer, EUSOG (Pleasance: 27 – 31 March ’18)

Photos. Erica Belton

” A hoot from start to finish”

Editorial Rating:  4 Stars Nae Bad

 

As one who grew up when the D’Oyly Carte closed shop was in full swing this writer was perhaps somewhat of a trailblazer in being one of the first to take part in an independent production in 1962 while at prep school (the copyright on Gilbert’s words having expired in 1961). I was the Sergeant of Police in The Pirates of Penzance, probably the one and only time this Bass part has been sung by a Treble. It was thus with almost a sense of ownership that I went along to see the Edinburgh University Savoy Opera Group’s presentation of the relatively unknown Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, The Sorcerer, set  in 1969’s Summer of Love. (Well, that was ’67 if you went to San Francisco, Ed.)

There is a long history of The Savoy Opera Group introducing topical elements into the songs and dialogue. However a “modern dress” production (albeit from the 60s) is rarer, more common in Shakespeare or Grand Opera, perhaps like the new production of Cosi Fan Tutte premiering at the Met in New York this very Saturday that is set in Coney Island ten years earlier.

So. A relatively unknown work. A hippy production (I show my age).  A student company. In a word, a risk. Did it work?

The costumes paid only a passing reference to 60’s fashion: the occasional mini skirt, Aline’s dress, floral crowns for the female company and the occasional floral shirt and scarf for the men. Not a single hipster bellbottom or Zapata moustache in sight. But actually none of this really mattered and was presumably a way of keeping down wardrobe costs. After all, this was essentially pantomime. And it was a hoot from start to finish.

The Sorcerer made its debut in 1877 and was the first Gilbert and Sullivan collaboration in which the two had complete control of the production. It was highly successful for its time, which encouraged the author and composer to continue working together and expanding the possibilities of satiric operetta. The Sorcerer introduced the comic duet, the patter song, the contrapuntal double chorus, the tenor and soprano love duet and the soprano showpiece aria that became staples of all the G & S productions that followed.

The Sorcerer also introduced W. S. Gilbert’s passion for satirizing the excessive focus of the English on class differences with a plot that turns the entire social order upside down. As the operetta begins, the villagers of Ploverleigh are celebrating the betrothal of Alexis, son and heir of Sir Marmaduke Pointdextre, to the only maiden of suitable rank in the neighbourhood, Aline, daughter of Lady Sangazure. Alexis and Aline sign the marriage contract, but it appears that Alexis, despite the fact that he loves Aline, does not share his father’s outmoded notions that only men and women of equivalent rank should marry, without regard to such nonsense as romantic inclination.

Alexis has, in fact, hired a sorcerer, John Wellington Wells, to test his theories. Wells casts a spell and creates a love potion that is administered to all the villagers through tea poured from a large teapot during the banquet following the betrothal. All who drink it immediately fall asleep, just as Wells has predicted. When they awaken, he promises, each will fall madly in love with the first person he or she sees (shades, obvs, of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and why not of Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club too?). Those who are already married are conveniently immune.

As we might anticipate, when the villagers awaken at midnight, chaos ensues. Sir Marmaduke himself, much to his son’s displeasure, falls in love with the lowly and elderly Mrs. Partlet, the pew opener. Lady Sangazure falls in love with the sorcerer himself, who spends most of the second act trying to elude her grasp. Even Alexis’ own betrothed, the lovely Aline, drinks the potion and falls out of love with Alexis and in love with the vicar of the village. Order can be restored only by the sacrifice of either Alexis or Mr. Wells …… But does it work out OK? Well, go and find out for yourself, but you can probably guess.

Did the players bring it off? Yes they did. Right from the start the opening ensemble inspired one in their confident, loud singing and homogeneity. I thought they were all miked up, such was the pleasing volume level, but, no, that was only the Principals. The chorus sang and acted enthusiastically, convincingly and were thoroughly entertaining from start to finish, particularly when the yummy potion took effect.

As for the Principals, I do question the choice of a female playing Alexis and dressed ambiguously with fitted shirt, trousers and cravat – again token costuming –  and Tilly Botsford handled the lower register singing only adequately, but acted convincingly. The finest singing came from Julia Weingartner’s Lady Sangazure with some hilariously over the top potion-induced amorous attention paid to the wickedly well played John Wellington-Wells (Angus Bhattaharya). The other Principals, Olivia Wollaston (a suitably pure Aline), Gordon Home (a well portrayed Pointdextre), Georgia Maria Rodgers (a frustrated adolescent Constance), Ewan Bruce (a suitably troubled and decent Dr Daly) and Niamh Higgins (a scream as Mrs Partlet) all drew us into the performance and had us rooting for them.

This was an evening of huge entertainment. Great singing, convincing acting, and tremendous fun. Everybody from Producer to orchestra member should take a bow.

 

nae bad_blue

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

 

Reviewer: Charles Stokes (Seen 28 March)

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SCO: Ticciati, Martin (Usher Hall: 22 March ’18)

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Robin Ticciati

“Edinburgh’s loss is Berlin’s gain”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars Nae Bad

I started checking the website the previous evening. And every couple of hours on the day. Would the great man show up? He has been plagued by back problems, and has publicly announced he is “doing less, to give himself more space”. Tell that to Valery Gergiev. A number of recent concerts have been missed.

 

Well he did, and well he had to, didn’t he? For this was the official farewell concert of Robin Ticciati as Principal Conductor of the SCO having taken up the position of Music Director of the Deutches Symphionie-Orchester Berlin. Pleasing that as Rattle leaves the BPO another Brit takes over at the DSO. Lucky Berlin to have such talented Brits.

 

As expected, there was a full house. Everybody knew they were in for something special. Robin and the band did not disappoint. Whilst mainstream repertoire was chosen, it was played with insight, intuition and zest. This was not a case of bashing out a few lollipops to keep the punters happy.

 

That having been said, the choice of Bach’s Orchestral Suite No 4 in D did not in my opinion sit well with the post romantic nature of the rest of the programme. It was played enthusiastically and fluently, notwithstanding the somewhat stilted, staccato-esque scoring. The standing violins and violas reminded me of Christopher Warren-Green’s London Chamber Orchestra and like them played from memory. This gave an effective theatrical turn to the interplay between solo first violin and viola, creating an atmosphere of baroque’n’roll.

 

Unusually scored for strings, harp and piano the Copland Clarinet Concerto is a hybrid work in the classical/jazz idiom akin to some of the music of Leonard Bernstein.   In two movements and but 18 minutes long, it is a work of depth, intensity and contrasts. The first movement “Slowly and expressively” was exquisitely played by Maximiliano Martin and is a real tearjerker akin to Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings. Seldom has the harp and viola introduction been played so sensitively intoned, followed by the lyricism and restraint of the soloist. Following a demanding and striking cadenza the second movement, “Rather fast – trifle faster” was virtually jazz (it was written for Benny Goodman) and was delivered with aplomb by Martin, light on his feet as if he were the Pied Piper. With much applause Martin stood next to the game pianist and granted us an encore.

 

Following the interval it was time for the party piece, Dvorak’s Symphony No 9 ‘From the New World’. These accursed titles do one no good in trying to get in touch with the music. Like the Moonlight Sonata they are publishers’ whims to help with their marketing. The work is a wonderful example of post-romantic symphonic form (1893), well constructed in four movements, tuneful and melodic throughout. And while there may be influences of Native American music and American Folk Song, it is on record that Dvorak thought that there was nothing much to distinguish between Native American, African –American or even Scottish music. We take the music on its merits, which are considerable.

 

The piece is so well known it is difficult to avoid cliché, but the orchestra played with such convincing phrasing and freshness that there was nothing hammy or schmaltzy at all, it was almost as if listening with fresh ears, albeit to a superbly classic interpretation. A wonderful note for Robin Ticciati to go out on, save for the lyrical “Song without Words” encore.

 

Robin Ticciati will be back conducting the SCO in the Brahms symphonic cycle for the Edinburgh Festival. In the meantime, Edinburgh’s loss is Berlin’s gain.

 

nae bad_blue

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

Reviewer: Charles Stokes (Seen 22 March)

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SCO: Emelyanychev, Spacek (Usher Hall: 15 March ’18)

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Josef Spacek

“If it were a blind tasting you would be definitely getting a taste of premier cru”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars: Nae Bad

 

 

The winter season has been cruel to the fans of the more well known soloists booked by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. Thursday’s concert, the latest of three I had planned to attend, was, for the third time in a row for me, blighted by the non-appearance of not only the soloist but also the conductor. The SCO points out in its no-show apology that there are no refunds because they have the right to substitute artists. Other Scottish orchestras take a less severe line. I had wanted to see Schiff a few weeks ago, I had wanted to see Tetzlaff on Thursday. I wanted to see Ticciati. That’s why I put the concert in the diary. All pulled. Ticciati’s on-going back problems deserve sympathy and should be recorded here. One hopes he can make it for his farewell concert next week. For the others, one wonders.

 

I decided to stay, not least because I feared that opportunities to review the SCO were proving elusive. I am glad I did, because that fickle spirit, Live Music, triumphed, and I learnt a lesson.

 

The B Team were young, but what they lacked in experience they made up for in enthusiasm, technical competence, and considerable depth of interpretation beyond their years. The concert was a joy from start to finish, melodic, engaging, very well played, relaxed and entertaining. Maxim Emelyanychev stood in for Robin Ticciati. A student of Rozhdesvensky and the Moscow Conservatory he has, at the tender age of 29, yet to conduct a first rank orchestra, but is booked next season for the Royal Philharmonic, the St Petersburg Philharmonic and at Glyndebourne with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. So tonight we were shown a window into a promising future.

 

Perhaps Josef Spacek, standing in for Christian Tetzlaff, has a few more pips on his shoulder. He has appeared not only with his native Czech Philharmonic, but also, among others, the Philadelphia Orchestra, Bamberger Symphoniker, Rotterdam Philharmonic and Netherlands Philharmonic. This was his first gig with a British orchestra. The 32 year old did well.

 

And so to the music. Of the three concertos written by Dvorak, I would put the piano concerto in the second division, the violin concerto at the bottom end of the first, and the cello concerto as a masterpiece. I personally prefer the Romance for Violin and Orchestra to the concerto, but of course the latter is a more substantial work. Spacek took immediate control with confidence, smooth phrasing, great tone and sufficient volume even way up high on the E string, standing out from the orchestra notwithstanding the limitations of his instrument.   Emelyanychev kept the orchestra in balance but brought everything out of the piece in a conducting style that was confident and far from laid back. The orchestra was competent and supportive after just the slightest waver on the fiendishly difficult and exposed horn opening, and one was in no doubt as to the natural synergy between the triad of orchestra, soloist and conductor, completely forgetting that two of them were stand-ins.

 

I cannot write about Schubert’s 9th Symphony without a reference to my then eight year old daughter chatting to a violinist from the London Philharmonic Orchestra during the interval at a concert at the Royal Festival Hall, just before playing the work. He said that he and his colleagues called it “The Great Sea Monster” and that is what the Great C Major has been in our household ever since.

 

The symphony is not without its challenges to the listener. The key of C has its limitations, and for Schubert it is relatively long. There is plenty of melody, but also quite a bit of ‘fill’. The solution, as rightly executed by Emelyanychev, is to take it at a cracking pace.  The SCO was melodic, cohesive, disciplined and played it better than many. I should give a special mention to the timpanist who unusually was given an opportunity to demonstrate his considerable expertise. Overall it was a very accomplished performance by both orchestra and conductor.

 

The lesson for this writer is, once again, with live music you never know what you are gong to get. Stars can disappoint, relatively unknowns can surprise and impress. To mix my metaphors, while the names tonight were perhaps more Naxos than DG, if it were a blind tasting you would be definitely getting a taste of premier cru.

 

 

nae bad_blue

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

Reviewer: Charles Stokes (Seen 15 March)

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RSNO: Steffens. Ionita (Usher Hall: 9 Feb.’18)

Image result for karl steffens conductor

Karl-Heinz Steffens

“This was as close to perfection as live performance gets”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars: Outstanding

 

With Valentine’s Day approaching the RSNO presented a programme on Friday of overtly romantic music: Schumann, Elgar, and, yes, Britten. They were under the baton of Karl-Heinz Steffens, a conductor of a rising reputation throughout his native Germany and also Scandinavia, who proved himself more than worthy of the occasion.

This was a concert of two halves, the first entirely adequate, the second quite exceptional.

In the first piece, Britten’s An American Overture, the band was let down by the relatively poor quality of the music. Not a criticism I would usually level at this composer, but Britten did himself deny all memory or knowledge of the piece when it was discovered in 1972 (it was composed in 1941 as a commission) and had to be shown the manuscript in his own handwriting to prove its provenance. It remained unperformed for a further 11 years. With shades of Copland and even Bernstein, there were flashes of interest in an otherwise fairly monochrome piece. The orchestra played it well, including some very exposed parts early on and while grateful for my knowledge of the repertoire being expanded through the experience, I have no particular wish to hear it again.

Next up the  – Oh, so romantic! –  Schumann Cello Concerto in A minor. RSNO Artist In Residence Jan Vogler was ill (Boy, has this been a season for withdrawals in Edinburgh!) and BBC New Generation Artist and 2015 International Tchaikovsky prizewinner Andre Ionita gamely took his place. The quality of the performance grew as the piece developed, one wondering if Ionita was playing con sordino as the sound coming forth initially lacked the necessary volume, and orchestra and soloist seemed a little out of synch, hardly surprising given the last minute replacement. Nonetheless in the second movement Langsam Ionita’s playing matched the music better, and in the final movement he brought out the necessary volume. His pizzicato encore left no one in any doubt as to his technique.

And now to the piece that everybody, I guess, had come to hear: Elgar’s Symphony No 1 in A flat major. If ever a case could be made for discipline in art, this was it. It would have been so easy to produce a piece of crowd pleasing schmaltz, but the words that come to my mind when analysing Steffens’s fine conducting and the orchestra’s magnificent playing are control, timing, tautness, controlled expression. Steffens showed himself to be a master of tempi, holding back and letting forth the players time and time again, including the final build-up in the brass where no one put a foot wrong. The flutes (I had seen Principal Flute Katharine Bryan chatting relaxedly in the hospitality suite only minutes earlier) kicked off the famous nobilmente with complete aplomb. I heard the cor anglais part clearly for the first time ever, and we were wafted away by the joyous playing of two harps in the final movement. This was as close to perfection as live performance gets. For that magical fifty minutes the RSNO were a world class orchestra. Bravo!

 

outstanding

StarStarStarStar

Reviewer: Charles Stokes (Seen 9 February)

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