Music review: RSNO & Thomas Søndergård, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

The RSNO
The RSNO
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A week from now the RSNO, under music director Thomas Søndergård, will be sweeping through Arizona and California on a concert tour. Their concerts over the past weekend in Edinburgh and Glasgow were partly a dress rehearsal, partly an opportunity for home audiences to appreciate the quality of product being exported by their national symphony orchestra. Certainly in Glasgow – and probably in Edinburgh too – these were mind-blowing performances.

RSNO & Thomas Søndergård, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall *****

How often can we keep saying this about Søndergård, whose partnership with the RSNO is so comfortably established that there is utter ease and confidence in every one of the players’ faces, and in their responsive actions, which instantly translates into deep and meaningful musical expression?

Within seconds on Saturday we were drawn into the fluid organic journey that is Sibelius’ Seventh Symphony. The sustained intensity of the strings, warmed by a sumptuous homogeneity, set a defining mood of directional stability, over which the variously chilled cocktails of woodwind and molten waves of brass influenced the twists and turns of the symphony’s single uninterrupted flow. Beautifully restrained; intellectually resolute.

Then the dazzling fingerwork of Russian-American pianist Olga Kern, whose performance of Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini was ablaze from first to last, an orgy of rhythmic fire and lyrical seduction.

Søndergård ended with Prokofiev’s Fifth Symphony, a work written at a troubled time for the composer, but interpreted here with driving positivity, acerbic wit and searing potency. I’ll be reporting on the American performances next week. - Ken Walton