Music review: RSNO/Peter Oundjian, Usher Hall, Edinburgh

Peter Oundjian PIC: Jane Barlow
Peter Oundjian PIC: Jane Barlow
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As farewell concerts go, Peter Oundjian’s bowing-out as the RSNO’s Music Director was hardly an exuberant, extravagant spectacle marking his six seasons in the role. What it was, however, was something far simpler, more authentic and almost certainly more heartfelt: just orchestra and conductor, closing their relationship with one of the most unflinchingly raw, honest works in the repertoire: Mahler’s Ninth Symphony.

Music review: RSNO/Peter Oundjian, Usher Hall, Edinburgh ****

You can’t get away from the fact that Mahler’s Ninth was an unusual choice for the occasion – a work often seen as Mahler’s sign-off to a life of bitterness and regret, although in Oundjian’s view a vision of eternity, of endless possibility. And appropriately, he focused on the expansive consolation of the Symphony’s outer movements, while his inner movements stepped back from the fury, sarcasm and vitriol they often express – they could probably have been rawer, but this was a time for reflection and contemplation rather than angst.

The orchestra – enlarged for the occasion – played magnificently, particularly the voluptuous but strongly defined strings, and Oundjian paid due respect to the Symphony’s countless soloists: flautist Katherine Bryan, clarinettist Josef Pacewicz, horn player Christopher Gough, trumpeter Christopher Hart, violist Tom Dunn, cellist Aleksei Kiseliov, and many more besides.

But it was Oundjian himself who was inevitably the evening’s focus, and he threw himself into the Symphony with purposeful determination, teasing apart its dense, complex textures, and finding an organic sense of development across its contrasting sections. By the end, Oundjian’s Mahler was an experience of immense tenderness, honesty and vulnerability.