Classical review: RSNO, Usher Hall, Edinburgh

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FOUR symphonies in a single concert, as the RSNO demonstrated, is… well, probably at least one too many.

Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Thomas Søndergård | Rating: *** | Usher Hall, Edinburgh

There was no faulting the ambition nor the vision of principal guest conductor Thomas Søndergård’s unusual pairing of two of Schubert’s early symphonies with two more by Stravinsky from more than a century later. But by the end, it felt like simply too much of the same thing – one abstract, multi-movement piece followed by another – that did little to make any of them seem particularly special, despite the obvious contrasts between the two composers.

And the Schubert symphonies in question – Nos 3 and 4 – do need to be made special. They’re precocious teenage works, full of charm and drama, but they need vivid, bright performances to become truly compelling. And despite the gentle period inflections Sondergard introduced – strings with minimal vibrato, for a start – the Orchestra simply seemed unconvinced, soft-focus and a bit ragged at times.

The Stravinsky symphonies marked the first in the RSNO’s two-concert Stravinsky Project (the infamous Rite of Spring follows later this week). The neo-classical Symphony in C is the closest to Schubert in terms of style, but it felt like quite a deliberate, sluggish account that struggled to capture the mischievous wit of Stravinsky’s reboot of earlier styles. Things suddenly erupted into vibrant life, however, with a raw, spirited performance of the Symphony in Three Movements, full of aggression and swaggering confidence.