Classical review: Royal Scottish National Orchestra

At the Usher Hall, Edinburgh. Picture: Jane Barlow
At the Usher Hall, Edinburgh. Picture: Jane Barlow
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Sex, murder and sacrifice pervade two of the most sensational and scandalous dance scores of the early 20th century – Bartok’s Suite from The Miraculous Mandarin and Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring – which framed this concert.

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

Conductor Thomas Søndergård and the RSNO meticulously evoked the menacing underbelly of a city in the Suite Bartok referred to as a “pantomime grotesque”. Amid the dissonance of the raucous brass and clamorous strings there was only the odd moment of respite, such as the crooning clarinet against a backdrop of murmuring cellos. Otherwise there was no let up in pace as the trombones led a high-speed glissandi race with the timpani, piano and cellos which leads to the violent, frenzied finale.

Dancing like a high priest in front of the orchestra, Søndergård’s precise attention to detail ensured that Stravinsky’s modernist classic delivered a powerful and thrilling punch. There was much to savour in this edgy account from the bass woodwind instruments, which provided such richness of tone at the centre of this rhythmic juggernaut, to the bombastic Wagner tubas and the ghostly muted trumpets and lyrical violas.

But while many of these elements, such as the choppy time changes and tempestuous brass, were also present in Stravinsky’s Violin Concerto the work comes across as a rigid and disjointed.

While soloist Leticia Moreno has the formidable technique necessary to wrestle with this tortuous beast, even her compelling execution couldn’t make up for the lack of focus and depth in this relentless onslaught.