Music review: The RSNO / John Storgårds

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There may be a border between them, but Finland and Russia joined forces here, enlisting help from the Czech Republic to create an evening of precision and passion.

Royal Scottish National Orchestra: Mahler One *****

Usher Hall, Edinburgh

Einar Englund’s opener started life as a score for the 1962 film, Pojat (The Boys), but was later turned into a six-movement suite. Set in Finland during the Second World War, the film follows a group of young boys whose fathers have left home to fight the Soviets – and their fascination with heroism was redolent throughout the score, keeping the percussion section firmly on its toes.

Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No3 regularly journeys down all manner of unexpected corridors, but it’s clear Russian soloist Nikolai Lugansky knows exactly where he is going. The dialogue between orchestra and piano is endlessly fascinating, and Lugansky’s affinity with Prokofiev’s wit, drama and energy is palpable, with finger work so fast and pounding it gets our pulse racing as well as his.

But although both pre-interval pieces demonstrated the skill and flair readily at the RSNO’s disposal, it was Mahler’s Symphony No 1 that reminded us what a truly world-class orchestra Scotland has in its nest.

At the podium, Finnish conductor John Storgårds would have received less of a work-out in an aerobics class. The gusto that rippled through his body during the 60- minute piece was echoed in every swell of the strings, call and response of the woodwind, thunder of percussion and triumphant flourish of brass. A truly astonishing delivery that won’t be forgotten in a hurry.