Music review: RSNO: Also Sprach Zarathustra, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

Kazushi Ono'Japanese conductor gigging with RSNO
Kazushi Ono'Japanese conductor gigging with RSNO
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Kazushi Ono’s programme with the RSNO this weekend contrasted dizzying extremes, from the pristine, music box intimacy of Mozart’s Piano Concerto in A, K488, to the heady extravagances of Richard Strauss’s Also Sprach Zarathustra, with the acid-stained elegance of Prokofiev’s Cinderella music occupying something of a middle ground.

Ono opened with extracts from Prokofiev’s ballet score in a way that charged much of the music’s narrative with seething theatrical heat – the joie de vivre of Cinderella’s Waltz, and the reality check of the midnight chimes chief among the highlights.

But there were other moments where conductor and orchestra hadn’t quite established absolute rapport, making this opener sound more like an acceptable warm-up number.

As if to prove a point, the ensuing Mozart concerto offered a completely fresh start, where everyone, from the significantly reduced 
Classical-sized orchestra to pianist Saleem Abboud Ashkar, played with absolute unanimity of purpose and style.

The RSNO elicited all the tight-knit intimacy of a crack chamber orchestra, smitten it would seem by the beautifully controlled sophistication of Ashkar’s finely-articulated solo performance. To hear this particular concerto – one of restrained exhilaration and, in the slow movement, simple sensitivity – communicated so convincingly in a hall that favours the bigger statement was truly moving.

Ashkar is a prize Mozartian. Let’s hear from him again.

With that behind them, Ono and the RSNO then let rip with Strauss’s musical encapsulation of Nietzsche’s Also sprach Zarathustra, not just the famous “NASA rocket launch” opening, but the entire symphonic poem, complete with its own marauding world of musical and philosophical extremes.

Not every detail was perfectly in place, but in overall terms this was gutsy and gripping, Strauss’s icy woodwind textures adding chill to the thrill.

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