Classical review: RSNO: Vaughan Williams, Edinburgh

The Royal Scottish National Orchestra has a mini war theme going on to straddle Remembrance Day. Next weekend’s grand act of commemoration comes in the form of Britten’s War Requiem and there was a more understated prelude this weekend with Vaughan William’s wartime Fifth Symphony.

A more subdued affair than many of the RSNOs previous Naked Classics offerings. Picture: Ian Rutherford

RSNO: Naked Classics, Vaughan Williams - Usher Hall, Edinburgh

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It was a more subdued affair than many of the RSNO’s previous Naked Classics offerings but presenter Paul Rissmann still engaged and entertained with his picking apart of the music in the first half, pitched perfectly to inform newcomers and VW buffs in the gratifyingly mixed audience.

He explained the symphony’s origins in the turmoil of the Second World War succinctly, but thankfully didn’t succumb to cliches about the piece’s folk-inspired melodies simply depicting an English pastoral idyll under threat. Instead, he moved to expertly dissect the music itself, revealing its quiet subversiveness in the process – even if his desire to demonstrate that Williams was a greater composer than Elgar seemed a bit redundant.

After the interval, conductor Rumon Gamba’s account was similarly incisive and urgent. Despite the temptation to dwell on Williams’s gloriously mystical harmonies, Gamba kept things moving with energy and vigour – in fact, his conducting was so physical that he jumped off the podium at several points. Dynamics were a little on the extreme side but by the piece’s hushed conclusion, the RSNO and Gamba had delivered a fresh and striking vision of this highly moving piece.