Showcasing two monumental but rarely played 20th century symphonic works might have dented the audience numbers for this concert, but there were riches aplenty for those who immersed themselves in conductor Peter Oundjian and the RSNO’s enthralling interpretations.
Royal Scottish National Orchestra | Rating: **** | Usher Hall, Edinburgh
Prokofiev himself admitted he found his Piano Concerto No 2 difficult to play and few pianists ever attempt it. However, soloist Nikolai Lugansky seemed born to hurdle these technical challenges, not least a demanding five-minute cadenza in the first movement, with astounding alacrity.
Apart from the dreamy Rachmaninov-like tranquillity of the opening and closing moments, this was sonic war. However, Lugansky never lost focus, arms flying as he zipped up and down the keyboard, pounding out dissonant chords and downhill glissandi while dodging a battery of percussion, spitting woodwind and thunderous strings.
Prokofiev’s unrestrained anger was nicely diffused by Lugansky’s heart-melting encore, a Tchaikovsky lullaby given the rhapsodic treatment by Rachmaninov.
Although equally as intense as the Prokofiev, Shostakovich’s Symphony No 8 came across in this reading as more profound and emotionally moving.
Oundjian and the battle-ready orchestra were led by the brilliant and commanding string section, steadily ratcheting up the tension, stamping, growling and shimmying all the way to the cataclysmic climax in the finale.
The orchestra were utterly on fire with lots of stand-out performances from the thrilling flutter-tonguing flutes and siren piccolo, to the cor anglais, bass clarinet and bassoon who, with the strings, has the last word in, what is for Shostakovich, an uncharacteristically sombre ending.