Music review: RSNO & Martin Grubinger, Usher Hall, Edinburgh

Conductor Elim Chan
Conductor Elim Chan
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The deep thudding drumbeats that kicked off Kalevi Aho’s concerto for percussion and orchestra set the tone for Martin Grubinger’s turbocharged performance of Sieidi. This is the Sami name for important sacred sites and the Finnish composer uses these as a starting point for this percussive walkabout across continents and centuries.

RSNO, Usher Hall, Edinburgh ****

Grubinger is a highly physical player, often crouched with one knee on the ground before uncoiling to strike a drum or create a blur of sticks during virtuosic marimba passages.

 Conductor Elim Chan kept the rich textures of the orchestral undercurrent simmering with its tantalising combinations of instruments. Grubinger’s ethereal vibraphone glowed against a mist of woodwind, while the piccolo was paired with the bass clarinet.

Throughout the one-movement work, Grubinger often synched beats with the bass drums either side of him, while in the closing bars of this finely nuanced concerto he gently tapped his fingers on the djembe to the crackle of rainsticks.

Percussion was used in a more militaristic way in Shostakovich’s Symphony No10 in E minor, written after the death of Stalin, the composer’s nemesis. In many ways it is an uneven work with the long first movement running out of steam before the galloping and turbulent scherzo is followed by two more conventional movements.

There was much to like in Chan’s slick, detailed reading especially the outstanding clarinet and bassoon contributions and the orchestral momentum in the beautifully paced finale. But overall the sinister underlying emotional menace wasn’t quite dialled up enough. Susan Nickalls