Music review: The RSNO & Elim Chan, Usher Hall, Edinburgh

Elim Chan, the RSNO's new principal guest conductor
Elim Chan, the RSNO's new principal guest conductor
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In her first concert as the RSNO’s principal guest conductor, Elim Chan sprinkled some magic over a disparate programme of French, Polish and Russian music. For anyone brought up on Disney’s Fantasia, the image of Mickey Mouse and those self-replicating broomsticks will forever be associated with The Sorcerer’s Apprentice by Dukas. Chan kept the swirling percussive textures light in this piece as the puttering bassoons played the familiar tune with character and panache.

The RSNO & Elim Chan, Usher Hall, Edinburgh ***

These elements were often missing in Chopin’s Piano Concerto No.2 with soloist Benjamin Grosvenor. For the most part this was a wistful, introspective reading of a work written largely as a vehicle for Chopin’s pianistic virtuosity. While this approach was ideally suited to the beautiful larghetto, with the hushed shimmering strings underpinning the lyrical piano lines, the framing movements needed to provide more of a contrast. Although Grosvenor’s playing is technically impressive, when it came to the third mazurka-inspired movement, one longed for him to bring a bit more personality to the table.

There was dynamism aplenty in Chan’s commanding delivery of Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances. After the strident stamping rhythms that open the work, there was a compelling and intricate dialogue between the woodwind instruments – bass clarinet, contra-bassoon and cor anglais – and the saxophone. The woodwind also dominated the waltz, joined by the flutes with their high-pitched flourishes launched like smoke signals. Chan gathered her forces for the rousing finale as the orchestra deftly negotiated the intertwining of the different themes including the haunting plainsong Dies irae. - Susan Nickalls