Classical review: RSNO - Thomas Søndergård

WHAT was it about the weekend’s RSNO programme that resulted in half-filled halls in Edinburgh and Glasgow?

Royal Scottish National Orchestra. Picture: Robert Perry
Royal Scottish National Orchestra. Picture: Robert Perry

RSNO: Thomas Søndergård

Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

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It certainly wasn’t the programme itself – Bartok’s characterful Concerto for Orchestra, Richard Strauss’s sumptuous Metamorphosen for 23 strings, and Beethoven’s impetuous Fidelio overture – unless the lack of a concerto and soloist had something to do with it?

And it certainly shouldn’t have been the presence of principal guest conductor Thomas Søndergård on the podium. He has a reputation for combining charisma with an ability to probe the innermost meaning of a work and convince you of its meaning and soul, as he proved in carefully considered Strauss and Bartok, the calculated exploration of which were governed by a riveting marriage between perceptive attention to detail and the glorious big picture.

In Metamorphosen, for instance, he resisted the temptation to treat every surging climax as the ultimate one, which so often kills the piece long before it ends. Instead, we were taken on a journey that was measured and full of tantalising anticipation. As such, the teasing allusions to Beethoven’s Eroica, when they finally erupt in full quotation by the basses, had exhilarating purpose.

The only frustration was the thin, apprehensive tone from the upper strings, robbing the work of its ultimate glow.

If Søndergård’s snappy Fidelio suffered minor issues of wind co-ordination, the Bartok was a supreme triumph. Beyond its brooding opening bars, there were fun and games in the scherzo, raw cynicism in the Intermezzo, and unbridled euphoria in the blistering finale.

Seen on 25.10.14