Music review: The RSNO, Thomas Søndergård & Sunwook Kim, Usher Hall, Edinburgh

Thomas S�nderg�rd PIC: Tom Finnie
Thomas S�nderg�rd PIC: Tom Finnie
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With the RSNO announcing its 2018-19 season – its first under incoming music director Thomas Søndergård – just days earlier, it was hard not to see Søndergård’s concert as something of a prelude to the main event next year. With that in mind, it looks like we’ve got plenty to look forward to.

Music review: RSNO, Thomas Søndergård & Sunwook Kim, Usher Hall, Edinburgh ****

Such a rich programme – Brahms’s epic Second Piano Concerto, followed by Richard Strauss’s almost hour-long celebration of his own musical heroism, Ein Heldenleben – could have made for a rather dense, demanding evening. But Søndergård brought a brilliant clarity to both pieces, picking apart and balancing their textures expertly, driving them on with eager energy and conveying their moods and stories vividly. In his introduction, he spoke of his own memories of performing in Heldenleben as a nervous young percussionist, and his strong personal connection was evident. From the swaggering confidence of Strauss’s bounding heroic theme to the gleefully grotesque carpings of his critics, Søndergård delivered a bold, utterly committed account – this is clearly music that matters to him.

RSNO leader Maya Iwabuchi was wonderfully fluid and volatile in Strauss’s depiction of his wife Pauline, and it was another RSNO string principal – cellist Aleksei Kiseliov – who gave a voluptuous, velvety account of the solos that open and close the slow movement of Brahms’s Second Piano Concerto. South Korean pianist Sunwook Kim was forceful yet thoughtful as soloist, occasionally hammering his mighty chords from a great height, yet producing a gloriously rich sound as a result, and bringing a lyrical clarity to Brahms’s slower music. A captivating evening full of compelling performances.