It took little more than a throwaway upbeat to the opening excerpts from Delibes’ ballet Sylvia, ou La nymphe de Diane, for the RSNO’s conductor laureate Neeme Järvi to recall the magic the now 82-year-old once brought us as music director in the 1980s.
RSNO/Neeme Järvi, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall ****
He is a master of the minimalist gesture: a minuscule flick of the baton; the confidence to let the orchestra run virtually on cruise control; perfunctory cut-offs that simply do the job.
Rather than prescribe, he suggests. In one hushed opening chord in the Delibes you could sense the orchestra asking itself, do we start now? When they did, tentatively but as one, we felt party to the cliff-edge excitement.
And what delirious excitement resulted, from the big Wagnerian horn opener, through the sensual lilt of the Valse lente, the playful pliability of the Pizzicati, the rhapsodic lustre of leader Sharon Roffman’s violin solo, to the ebullient Bacchanalian climax. Scots mezzo soprano Catriona Morison, standing in for the indisposed Sarah Connolly, tempered the ensuing excerpts from Bizet’s Carmen with sultry, nuanced enticement. She has a natural, engaging charisma.
Then the glittering resplendence of Saint-Saëns’ Organ Symphony, strangely scrappy to begin with, but quickly settling into a powerfully organic performance, unpredictable yet inexorable under Järvi, Michael Bawtree teasing shimmers and shudders from the organ, and a final moment of unscheduled drama when timpanist Paul Philbert burst through the skin of his timpani. Somewhat symbolic of Järvi’s mesmerising tendency to let music spontaneously combust. Ken Walton