Music review: RSNO - Bernstein 100, Usher Hall, Edinburgh

American composer, conductor and pianist Leonard Bernstein (1918 - 1990), photographed in London in 1970 PIC: Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
American composer, conductor and pianist Leonard Bernstein (1918 - 1990), photographed in London in 1970 PIC: Fox Photos/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
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Celebrating the centenary of the birth of Leonard Bernstein, the RSNO delivered what was unquestionably one of the most exciting of this season’s programmes on Friday evening. The iconic Symphonic Dances from West Side Story – a score that broke new ground in its composition mixing opera, musical and ballet – were heard with the whole gamut of emotion evoked through Bernstein’s modernist take on Romeo and Juliet. Romanian-born conductor Cristian Măcelaru may have looked a bit rough-hewn in the physicality of his podium style but the results he drew from the orchestra were tight and energetic, from the riot of colour in the Cuban-inspired rhythms of Mambo to the gentle affection of the love song theme from Maria.

Music review: RSNO - Bernstein 100, Usher Hall, Edinburgh ****

With the brass and percussion sections consistently on fire, clarity of orchestral texture was remarkable, with a special shout-out particularly due to flute and French horn soloists.

The same composer’s Chichester Psalms worked slightly less well, with orchestra and chorus not quite keeping up with each other at times, although the sound from the latter was thrilling in the intensity of its interpretation of the Hebrew texts.

Putting Bernstein in context with two other American composers brought Gershwin and Barber, the former’s Rhapsody in Blue finding the orchestra more persuasive in its jazz driven charisma than piano soloist George Li.

Least familiar on the bill was Samuel Barber’s Symphony No 1, an expansive one movement, in which strings swelled and soared in turn under Măcelaru’s passionate baton.