Music review: RSNO: Belshazzar’s Feast, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

Thomas S�nderg�rd PIC: Nikolaj Lund
Thomas S�nderg�rd PIC: Nikolaj Lund
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Understatement can be a powerful tool. It was a defining factor in this RSNO season finale, either in the music itself – a tasteful and balanced package of Sibelius, Elgar and Walton – or in the intoxicating detail of its delivery under Thomas Søndergård, marking the end of his first transformative season with the orchestra.

RSNO: Belshazzar’s Feast, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall *****

Take the delicate tracery of Sibelius’ Belshazzar’s Feast – the 1907 orchestral suite from incidental music to Hjalmar Procopé’s forgotten play – which barely rises above a whisper, but in this super-sensitised performance was beguiling and exotic. From the muted Oriental Procession, with its Asiatic twists and turns, to the tempering darkness of Khadra’s Dance, the confection of evocative solos and soft, sumptuous tuttis elicited pure magic.

It set the scene for cellist Truls Mørk’s fascinating take on Elgar’s century-old Cello Concerto, in which rhetoric had no place. Mørk focused on the music’s reflective core, suppressing excesses of emotion, thereby training our thoughts on the autumnal pensiveness of the work and the purposeful illumination subtly effected by the busy orchestral backdrop.

If Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast was expected to offer incendiary contrast, that wasn’t quite the case. Yes, spine-tingling venom ignited the blasphemous praising of the false gods, and the multi-brass triumphalism of the final Alleluia. But, more interestingly, Søndergård demanded an unprecedented roundness of tone from the RSNO Chorus, made possible by toning down the band without losing its incisive presence. Baritone Anthony Clark Evans responded too in clear, penetrating tones. A class act all round. - Ken Walton