Classical review: The RSNO and Thomas Søndergård

Thomas SøndergÃ¥rd exercises a magic touch with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. Of all its regular conductors '“ he is principal guest '“ he is the one who makes this orchestra really live, responding to his un-showy authority with tangible passion and corporate vitality.

The RSNO and Thomas Søndergård ****

Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

Nowhere was that more evident in Saturday’s brief programme than in the closing performance of Beethoven’s Symphony No 1. Søndergård’s brisk and no-nonsense vision was one thing, but in response his orchestra reacted decisively and viscerally. The string sound was rich but thrillingly precise, the wind and brass matching that with the most cohesive playing they’ve produced all season, all of that flamboyantly underpinned by the super-incendiary delivery of the evening’s timpanist.

For Søndergård, every single note mattered, from crystal clear inner lines, to such detailed subtleties as the opening of the finale, its simple teasing introduction laced with unexpected pleasures.

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This Beethoven was the pinnacle of a fulfilling programme that had journeyed via two Sibelius orchestral poems – Finlandia and The Oceanides – and Mahler’s characterful Des Knaben Wunderhorn settings, with baritone soloist Roderick Williams.

Williams approached the Mahler songs with simplicity, wit and affection, a performance lifted by the sparkle of the orchestral colourings, though his connection with the audience would have been more fully engaging had he dispensed with the written score.

In both Sibelius pieces, Søndergård was drawn to the raw, obsessive temperament that often defines this composer, imbuing the performances with darkened euphoria and subversive resilience.