RSNO, Sondergard, Benedetti. (Usher Hall: 8 Feb.’19)

Image: wyntonmarsalis.org

“…the RSNO, which since their return from China in January has been playing at world class standard. “

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars

I have commended the RSNO on the creativity and intelligence of their programme planning since I started writing about them some three years ago, and on Friday there was a fine example of this.  For sure, Nicola Benedetti, the forces sweetheart of the Central Belt, will always fill the hall, and Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess is ever popular, but Thomas Ades and Wynton Marsalis?  Now that was a risk, but, boy, did it pay off.

 

Effectively this was Jazz Night at the Usher Hall, and, strangely enough it was the Concerto in D minor for Violin and Orchestra by Wynton Marsalis that had the strongest classical nuances, not the Ades.

 

Powder Her Face by Thomas Ades was his first opera, based on a sex scandal involving the then Duchess of Argyll, and was a cut down work comprising just four singers and an ensemble of three clarinets, a brass trio and a string quintet with piano, harp, accordion and percussion.  Ades’ Dances, written later but for that same opera, is what we heard and was an eleven-minute full on full orchestra shebang which certainly expressed the Duchess’s hedonistic lifestyle.  To say it was played with wild abandon would be to criticise the orchestra.  It was played with controlled abandon.  But abandon there certainly was, a gorgeous, unrestrained, schmaltzy piece bordering on the burlesque.

 

More familiar was A Symphonic Picture of Porgy and Bess, a 23-minute composite of our favourite songs orchestrated by Fritz Reiner for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra in 1943.  The work held together with remarkable integrity and was a joy to listen to.  Again, the RSNO didn’t hold back and we were treated to some rich, unrestrained playing in the jazz rather than classical orchestral tradition, showing the orchestra’s versatility under the guiding arm of Sondergard’s enlightened baton.

 

Without doubt the draw of the evening was the newly honoured Nicola Benedetti (is she the youngest CBE in the country?) playing the Scottish premiere of the Concerto in D minor for Violin and Orchestra by Wynton Marsalis, especially written for herIntroduced by Sondergard as a work as long as a symphony (50 minutes) it never palled.  I would describe the opening movement, Rhapsody, as a beautiful lyric piece yet in the jazz idiom, albeit classically constructed.  The second, Rondo Burlesque, was all over the place but a fun listen.  During the third movement, Blues, Benedetti showed us some beautiful solo playing with the support of the string section in some unusual and effective pizzicato.  Come the finale, Hootenanny, notwithstanding the Scottish title, I felt we were more likely in a barn dance, it was terrific, exciting, fun and to cap it all Benedetti concluded the piece by walking off the stage still playing the final refrain.

 

This is the third consecutive review that I have written in the past fortnight that has received our highest accolade, five stars, which shows the incredibly high standard of music available currently in Edinburgh. Two of these go to the RSNO, which since their return from China in January has been playing at world class standard.  Rather than give an encore Benedetti concluded the evening by thanking the generosity of the RSNO in giving free tickets to a number of Midlothian young musicians who had been taking a workshop that afternoon with the orchestra; obliquely referring to the current threat to axe instrumental tuition in Midlothian for schoolchildren below S4.  If the seniors in the audience want their children and grandchildren to continue to listen to home grown music of this quality, the answer lies in their pockets, though of course Nicola was too nice to say this.  But we knew what she meant.

 

 

StarStarStarStarStar

Reviewer: Charles Stokes (Seen 8 February)

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RSNO, Sondergard. Mahler, Bruckner (Usher Hall: 1 Feb.’19)

Anton Bruckner (1824-1896)

“… an object lesson in how to play Bruckner, and a testimony on a cold winter’s night to the glory that is music played live.”

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars: Outstanding

It was a wretchedly cold Friday night in Edinburgh, and the rugby was on the telly.  Moreover the programme was Bruckner and Mahler, absolutely my favourite, but not everyone’s cup of tea.  Yet if the members of the RSNO could bus or drive in from Glasgow on a night such as this, so could I shuffle across Bruntsfield Links to a near capacity house.  Testimony to the RSNO, for sure, and we were amply rewarded by some fine playing.

 

Putting Bruckner and Mahler together on a programme is not untypical, and of course only one work can be a full symphony or the concert would go on too long.  Nonetheless I was puzzled why relatively early Bruckner (around 1880) and late Mahler (written c1910) should be conjoined.  The answer was found in the playing of Mahler’s Adagio from the unfinished Tenth Symphony, typically valedictory; and of  Bruckner’s Symphony No 4 (The Romantic), triumphant and life affirming.

 

The key point I want to put across in this review is the sheer quality of the orchestra’s playing on the night, and the incredible discipline of the baton of Thomas Sondergard that stopped the tendency of Bruckner symphonies to ‘wander’ or lose their way. The Bruckner can sometimes sound muddy with the high proportion of brass, but we experienced none of that, but just utter clarity.

 

Occasionally Sondergard addresses the audience at the beginning of a concert and I wondered if he was going to tonight, especially as it was quite a short bill with just 1 hour 25 minutes of music.  He chose not to, and was right, as the Mahler is a sombre piece and a stand alone work in itself.  I was astonished at how the orchestra immediately got into the piece – a desperately exposed violin and horn introduction played assuredly that swept us away into a rewarding exposition with some of the most complex Mahlerian harmonies that I have heard.  This included moments of real poignancy that at one stage found your reviewer wiping his eyes!

 

We returned after the interval to hear the Bruckner.  This was a taut, disciplined and expertly played piece that kept us on the edge of our seats for the entire 62 minutes.  All sections excelled themselves but my personal gold medal would go to the cellos – who were not asked to take a bow, probably because of the difficulty of all eight of them getting up at the same time with their cumbersome instruments.  Time and time again Sondergard’s stern but helpful baton stopped us losing the tempo or phrasing, so that we felt, and the orchestra sounded, as fresh at the end as at the beginning.  This was an object lesson in how to play Bruckner, and a testimony on a cold winter’s night to the glory that is music played live.

 

A footnote to compliment the audience on this cold and coldy night.  Not a single cough or splutter during the music and a patient, eternal, wait after the Mahler for the conductor to drop his baton. After the Bruckner we could not contain ourselves and the applause immediately followed the concluding note, along with several shouts of “Bravo”.  Quite rightly so.

 

 

outstanding

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Reviewer: Charles Stokes (Seen 2 February)

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St Petersburg Philharmonic, Sinaisky; Kempf, Devin. (Usher Hall: 27 Jan.’19)

At the Museum of the Defense and Siege of Leningrad.
Photo credit: TASS/Yury Belinsky

“This orchestra has soul”

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars Outstanding

It became very clear to me on a visit to St Petersburg in February last year ( … temperature minus 20C) that the St Petersburg Philharmonic (which begat the Petrograd Philharmonic, which begat the Leningrad Philharmonic, which begat the St Petersburg Philharmonic for the second time), Russia’s oldest orchestra, is not just an orchestra or a magnificent symbol of Russian culture, but an entity that goes to the very soul of the St Petersburgers themselves.  For in the Great Patriotic War (World War Two to you and me) the citizens of this great city were under siege for 872 days and reduced at one stage to eating cardboard and glue – after the rats ran out.  Tannoys were fixed around the city to relay the playing of the orchestra to maintain morale, usually Shostakovich’s 7th Symphony (‘The Leningrad’).  The orchestra were given extra rations to give them the strength to play.  Some died at their desks.  The siege ended on 27th January 1944, 75 years to the day of this concert.

I doubt if any playing in the orchestra on Sunday were alive then, but of course their parents would have been, and they would have known.  This orchestra has soul.

There is also a poignant connection between Eastern Scotland and Western Russia, as anyone who has read Eugenie Fraser’s The House by the Dvina knows, although this was principally trade between Dundee and Archangel.  However, there was terrific snob value in nineteenth century aristocratic St Petersburg houses in having an Edinburgh Nanny, just read Harvey Pitcher’s When Miss Emmie was in Russia.

So it was touching that the St Petersburg Philharmonic chose to start their UK tour in Edinburgh, and we got a full on performance.  This was no warm up venue.

The Usher Hall’s programme of Sunday Classics featuring international orchestras is an unashamed and thoroughly enjoyable crowd pleaser. The programmes are highly accessible if not populist.  Why not? The place was packed.  Nobody plays like a Russian orchestra, and nobody plays Russian music like a Russian orchestra, and our first item was the biggest lollipop of them all, Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No 2 in C minor, Op. 18It was played superbly, with not the slightest hint of schmaltz or vulgarity.  Freddy Kempf set the tone from the beginning by making every one of the eight bell like introductory chords sound different.  His was a very intelligent, totally clear interpretation that let the music speak for itself.  The orchestra’s tone was rich and warm, conductor Vassily Sinaisky kept soloist and band in balance, keeping the magnificent brass in check and letting the strings soar, with ample support from woodwind and percussion.  This was a thoroughly rehearsed yet utterly fresh and committed rendition of a well known work that did not tire through familiarity, a lesson to orchestras everywhere.

The ultra cool Freddy Kempf treated us to a substantive jazz encore.  The music writer always wants to know what the encore is, but even when announced can rarely hear.  Anyway, Freddy said that “It was written by a Russian Ukrainian whom you won’t have heard of”.

To my surprise the second part of the programmes was not a Russian composer but Mahler, albeit the very accessible 4th Symphony.  The orchestra went into the opening without catching its breath, beautiful light flute and string phrasing, a fast rhythm quickly developed with a definite sense of swing.  Immediately we had the confidence that we would be in for a fine performance, and we were.  The horns came in strong but beautifully measured, the four flutes, no less, pleasingly fluent and inducing a sense almost of easy listening.  Knowing of Mahler’s love of scoring for banks of the same instrument (he has been known to write for eight horns) I was impressed to see and hear no less than ten double basses playing pizzicato in the third movement Ruhevoll (Restful). An extraordinary experience.

Come the final movement Sehr behaglich (at ease) soprano Anna Devin emerged from where she had been patiently sitting in the midst of the orchestra to take front stage.  I am always slightly disappointed when soloists have to have their music with them, and Anna’s relative lack of projection at first may have had something to do with this.  Nonetheless her voice was pure, pleasing and if not drowned by the huge orchestra would have soared a little more, and Sinaisky’s baton could have helped her a little more in bringing the necessary balance about.

The audience was totally engaged even if not as sophisticated as those of the evening kind – too many whoops in the applause.  So I was absolutely delighted that they not only restricted their coughing at this difficult time of the year but held their applause for what seemed like a lifetime as the conductor’s baton held the silence for a satisfyingly and deservedly long interval before the house came crashing down with enthusiastic clapping and cheering.

After several returns to the rostrum, we were treated to an engaging encore of close harmonied late nineteenth century orchestral music, or so I guess.  I wish I knew, but, hey, who cares about names, it was a beautiful way to end this gorgeous Sunday afternoon occasion.

outstanding

StarStarStarStarStar

Reviewer: Charles Stokes (Seen 27 January)

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Mouthpiece (Traverse: 5 – 22 Dec.’18)

“Knockout performance: quick, fierce, and smart but always on the edge.”

Editorial Rating:  5 Stars: Outstanding

As Edinburgh plays go, this one is outspoken. Its audience is there to be stuffed and startled. Do you ‘live’ or do you ‘stay’ in Edinburgh? Whatever, wherever, you are unlikely to say – as you look out over the city – “See they flats?”. For a start the grammar’s wrong: amusing, sure, but plain wrong unless you’re local and out of school. Second, those flats are way over there “in the bit nobody looks at”. Not Muirhouse, as it happens, but more likely on the Southside, in Gracemount or Craigmillar. That’s where Declan (17) lives with his mother, her boyfriend, and his little sister, Sian. Declan’s father killed himself when Declan was seven. He was an alcoholic and everyone says Declan will end up just like him.

Libby (46) is not from Morningside, but possibly close to; the Grange maybe, or even Fairmilehead which always sounds nice. For Libby is nice and her mother listens to BBC Radio 4. Mouthpiece tells the story of Declan and Libby; posh woman who used-to-be-a-writer meets radge schemie. In the end it is perfectly possible to consider it a love story but it’s Declan’s love for Sian that really touches you.

This play’s energy pours out of Declan. It’s pure, vehement fun one minute – a verbal battering of Libby’s proper speech (and attitudes mebbe?) – but then it’s full of despair and longing the next. Lorn Macdonald delivers a knockout performance: quick, fierce, and smart but always on the edge: “I ken what precarious means, I’m no daft”.

Neve McIntosh as Libby can fall back on herself and land safely, even comfortably, by the end. She has the background and the education that is not available to Declan. She uses ‘Professional’ status as a defensive excuse that will make you queasy. McIntosh’s performance is finely judged; never provocative or clever but – if anything – rather shy and vulnerable. But she has two parts to play: one, with Declan, and the other with us, an audience of posh cunts. (Sorry, but that’s how it is and you’d better get used to the word if you’re going to see Mouthpiece). Libby talks to us about her story, ‘her’ play. Was it ever Declan’s?

Designer Kai Fischer and writer Kieran Hurley frame the work within a stark rectangular set that Libby steps easily in and out of. The shock quotient when Declan does the same goes off the scale. Projected text is used to identify place and time and to underwrite the action (as if penned by Libby). When that fractures and Declan disputes what is happening is both unsettling and dramatic. It also arrests a formal, ‘meta’ narrative before it gets too precious.

Mouthpiece is artistic director Orla O’Loughlin’s last show at the Traverse before she goes to London’s Guildhall. It displays the same drive and attack that distinguished her Devil Masters from 2014. There may be no expensive New Town interior to trash – Hurley’s script does that all by itself – but her hold on what matters is just as tight and uncompromising. The play will not bring much comfort and cheer for Advent but it does send you out with an important sense that the hurt and the dispossessed are never far way. Little Sian’s name might mean ‘God’s precious gift’ but no-one is giving Declan any presents this Christmas.

The applause came in fast and loud at the final blackout. Too fast. The performances are outstanding and deserve it but Mouthpiece is one of those plays that is yelling at yous to shut up and think.

outstanding

StarStarStarStarStar

Reviewer: Alan Brown  (Seen 14 November)

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RSNO: Sondergard, Mutter (Usher Hall: 30 Nov. ’18)

Anne-Sophie Mutter

“… a rarely experienced, incredibly high, standard of musicianship.”

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars :Outstanding

 

“Anne-Sophie Mutter is coming to Edinburgh’”.  “Great.”   “She’s playing the Penderecki Metamorphosen.”  “Ah”.

 

Actually, I would turn up to hear Anne-Sophie Mutter (ASM) play a sailor’s jig as she would make something of it, but the Penderecki, although dedicated to her by “Poland’s greatest living composer” is a bit of a programming wild card.  My fault, I suppose. There are certain artists one associates with one’s past and I still have in my head the picture of a rather serious child next to her protégé, Herbert Von Karajan, on the cover of the Deutsche Grammophon 1978 début recording of Mozart Violin Concertos 3 and 5.

 

Mozart: Violin Concerto Nos.3 K.216 & 5 K.219

 

But of course, that is just memory.  Mutter has pioneered modern composers as her career has developed and is a thoroughly accomplished portrayer of classical music spanning 250 years.  Many modern composers have written for her and she is the dedicatee of the Metamorphosen.  Moreover, Penderecki himself was down to conduct tonight’s concert, but had to withdraw for personal reasons.  Given that he is 85 years old this is totally allowable.  RSNO music Director Thomas Sondergard took over the reins and did very well as I doubt he had the work in his repertoire.

 

 Krzysztof Penderecki is an interesting contemporary composer on a level with –  although a tad less accessible – his much more commercial compatriot Gorecki; but behind, say, Lutoslawski.  His music is certainly worth a listen, and his second violin concerto Metamorphosen is overall a worthwhile work although structurally weak in parts.  But of course ASM made it sound like a masterpiece, a true négociant-éleveur but of music rather than wine.  Ten years ago she corrected a mistaken report of her retirement in the French press in saying that she would continue to play as long as she felt she could “bring anything new, anything important, anything different to music”, which is precisely what she did tonight.  So often a hyped-up artist can let you down, under rehearsed, on the night.  Not ASM, she always delivers, a lesson to artists everywhere.

 

Let me try and unpack what was so special about her playing.  First, she found the hidden melodies in this rather spiky piece and made the most of them.  Second, the work flowed rather than jerked, as much modern music tends to.  Third, I never lost my concentration or involvement in a work that was almost three quarters of an hour long without a break.  Last week I wrote how, unfortunately, indifferent interpretation had got in the way of good music (SCO/Mendelssohn, Beethoven,Schumann 22/11/18) but for this concert the reverse was true, a rarely experienced, incredibly high, standard of musicianship.

 

“How do you follow a work of such tragedy and sadness”?  ASM said as she introduced her encore.  “Bach is always the answer” and rattled off a perfect Partita at breakneck speed that left us gasping.  As a writer who is given to enthusiasm but not hyperbole, I have to say that in that 50 minutes I experienced the most intensely satisfying playing of live music this year, if not this decade.

 

Tchaikovsky’s 5th symphony was an extraordinary pairing to complete the concert but at least gave the punters a tune to take home for their money.  The commitment of the RSNO to the music was such that we soon forgot the ‘Wow’ factor of the first half and were firmly rooting for the band.  It was as if the music had been written for them.  Wonderful, sonorous strings, enthusiastic brass; the whole orchestral gamut in fact.  Inspirational, seamless, joyous playing.

 

outstanding

StarStarStarStarStar

Reviewer: Charles Stokes (Seen 30 November)

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Russian State Symphony Orchestra. Uryupin, Douglas. (Usher Hall: 14 Oct.’18)

Image result for russian state symphony orchestra

“.. We had just experienced something magical”

Editorial Rating:  5 Stars: Outstanding

 

Orchestras from foreign lands are always a pull, whether they be good, bad or indifferent, and so the Usher Hall’s annual Season of international classical orchestras, along with recognisable and highly accessible programmes, is a clever marketing tool. It pulls in not just the regulars but irregular concert goers as well, and is thus to be lauded. Unfortunately there are some downsides in terms of concert etiquette.

 

The Stalls and the Grand Circle were full and the Upper Circle pretty empty, symptomatic of the target demographic, relatively well off retirees, a sort of silver screen for music lovers, but without the coffee and biscuits. I was pleased to see evidence of champagne being taken at the interval. Dress code was pretty smart too. Many had been out to Sunday lunch, the opposite of what I have experienced in Vienna, where the well heeled visit the Brahms Halle in the morning for a recital from members of the Philharmonie before retiring to the Imperial Hotel for torte or wurst. 

However, such slightly patronising thoughts were brought up with a short, sharp shock as the players got going. Russian orchestras sound different, play differently, interpret very differently. The Russian State Symphony Orchestra (they change names so often it is hard to know who you are hearing: I remember booking to hear the Leningrad PO only to find because of political changes the programme on the night referred to them as the St Petersburg PO ), the RSSO, is officially known as the State Academic Orchestra of Russia “Evgeny Svetlanov” and is one of Russia’s older ensembles having debuted in Moscow in 1936 under the baton of Erich Kleiber and Alexander Gauk.

The orchestra’s take on Suite and national dances from Swan Lake (Tchaikovsky) almost blew me out of my seat. No gentle Sunday afternoon lollipops here. The collection was their own “cherry pick” from the ballet and covered the full gamut of well known sketches and dances, the ‘Black Swan’ being very much in evidence in the full on, almost clodhopping interpretation of all bar the opening “Scene” (Morecambe and Wise, anyone?”) as dance music as opposed to an orchestral suite, and of course this was portraying the music just as it was originally scored. For sugar plum fairies kindly look elsewhere. Aggressive almost brutal harshness with strong rhythmic intensity, incredibly strong tone, yet never harsh or crude. The Waltz, for example, was played as yearning and passionate rather than gentle and coy. Oh those Russians!

Somewhat taken out of myself I was pleased for the pause as the strings went off stage to bring on the Steinway. A couple of days ago it was in situ as the orchestra played before it was needed. Spoiled the view, and anyway, this is a big orchestra to stage.

Shostakovich is not guaranteed to bring in the casual concertgoer, but his second piano concerto is short, and an aural treat. The audience loved it. Barry Douglas, very much on form, dispatched the first movement in the composer’s tongue-in-cheek mode with easy precision, but as a movement it was unremarkable. It was in the second movement Andante that we began to drool. The strings’ opening bars are of such tangible emotion and the plaintive sadness of Douglas’s introduction and exposition got everything out of the music without overplaying. Real judgement and artistry. If you don’t know it, you can hear the composer play it himself on You Tube. In fact, you should.

The third movement by contrast is pure bravura. I was frankly amazed at Douglas’s technique, making as if nothing of these incredibly demanding Allegro passages in double time. It is to me quite extraordinary that Shostakovich thought so little of the work, notwithstanding writing it as a birthday present for his nineteen-year-old son. Perhaps composers are their own harshest critics, for this work, in microcosm, has much to commend it.

After the interval we were treated to Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony, an hour-long treat that never palls unlike some of the extended passages we get in symphonies of similar duration from Bruckner or even Mahler. It was particularly interesting to me having heard the first symphony (written twelve years earlier and to general opprobrium) a couple of days earlier. Here was a fully developed work deploying every part of the orchestra to full effect. The interpretation of the orchestra was much more mainstream than in the Tchaikovsky and none the worse for that. From beginning to end it was a textbook example of how the work should be played compared to the more esoteric, but entirely valid Tchaikovsky interpretation.

Notwithstanding a two hour performance the orchestra generously gave us the tactfully chosen Elgar’s Menuet de Matin as an encore.

I cannot finish without complaining about the insensitive and self-indulgent coughing throughout much of the performance. It was particularly hard to bear in the beautiful Shostakovich Andante, and the unrestrained coughing so soon after the interval could, I assume, have been despatched beforehand. Holding a rolled handkerchief to the mouth and coughing into it can greatly limit the noise of unavoidable coughing, as the Royal Festival Hall advise in all their programmes. Also, but thankfully after leaving a few seconds silence after the Andante, there was a small outbreak of applause ( … Noooooo!). There has been talk of this at the Proms this year. On this particular occasion I could not find it in me to complain, for we had just experienced something magical.

 

outstanding

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Reviewer: Charles Stokes (Seen 14 October)

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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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