Classical review: RSNO: Oundjian Conducts Ma Vlast, Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow

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IN TERMS of vivid programmatic writing and 19th century nationalist zeal, Smetana’s cycle of six tone poems, Ma Vlast, is a potent example.

RSNO: Oundjian Conducts Ma Vlast

Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow

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Narrative and symbolic, passionate and political, and loaded with exquisite and powerful musical imagery, its music sends the brain into a creative whirl from start to finish, bombarding the mind with myriad scenes of idyllic beauty, gory legend, ruinous battles and revolutionary struggle.

So does it really benefit from the kind of triple-screen panoramic slide show that photochoreographers James Westwater and Nicholas Bardonnay created for this weekend’s RSNO programme – a performance of the complete cycle, played wisely without a break, and conducted with throbbing sensitivity by Peter Oundjian?

The answer, on balance, is yes, although there were many moments – particularly the hundreds of beautifully captured images of verdant fields, children canoeing, of local eccentrics fishing – when you expected a strapline to appear crediting sponsorship by the Czech Tourist Board.

For me, such modern realism proved a minor barrier to that wonderful sense of ancient mystique embedded in the music, even in such obvious travelogues as the well-known river journey, Vltava.

But it did strike an empathetic chord in the political subject matter of the last two parts – Tábor and Blaník – through haunting visual references to the country’s more recent struggles against Naziism and the 
Soviets.

But no mistaking the supreme hi-definition quality of this visual presentation, and the truly colourful and passionate playing from the RSNO that went with it.

A super idea. Try it again.