Classical review: Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Usher Hall, Edinburgh

Royal Scottish National Orchestra in the Usher Hall. Picture: Jane Barlow
Royal Scottish National Orchestra in the Usher Hall. Picture: Jane Barlow
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WHOEVER said that romance is dead wasn’t bargaining on the RSNO audience, who appeared in their droves to pack the Usher Hall on Friday night for the orchestra’s special tribute to St Valentine.

Royal Scottish National Orchestra | Rating: *** | Usher Hall, Edinburgh

With Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto, that great star of classic 1945 movie Brief Encounter, as top of the bill, it was a programme designed for love being in the air. The concerto’s opening bell-like chords from Russian pianist Boris Giltburg were embracingly muscular, with a suitably matching strong string sound from the orchestra.

Yet Giltburg is an artist whose range of expression brought so much more than slushy romance to Rachmaninov’s emotion-laden score. Whether wistful and dreamy or tense and heart-aching, the lyricism of his playing was a joy to listen to. Cupid’s arrow, however, didn’t quite hit its mark in Tchaikovsky’s Capriccio Italien or another iconic film soundtrack, the Adagietto from Mahler’s Symphony No 5 (from Death in Venice).

Although totally different pieces in terms of mood-setting, the sparkle of neither ever fully emerged and needed more of the colourful joie de vivre inspired by Italy or the sense of longing so beautifully conveyed by the composer in his love letter of music to his wife.

Strauss’s orchestral suite from the opera Der Rosenkavalier was dramatically characterised by some very fine woodwind playing. Conductor Jean-Claude Picard shaped its gorgeous lines with a rise and fall that worked more effectively than the exaggerated swaying style he adopted elsewhere.