Music review: RSNO, BBC SSO & Kevin John Edusei

What do you get when you put two orchestras together? Pulverising chords and mighty pillars of sound, writes Ken Walton

The RSNO and BBC SSO rehearsing under the baton of Kevin John Edusei
The RSNO and BBC SSO rehearsing under the baton of Kevin John Edusei

RSNO, BBC SSO & John Edusei, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall *****

What do you get when you pack Scotland’s two symphony orchestras onto the same stage and press play? The result could be deafening, and there were moments in the mighty Harmonielehre of John Adams, which concluded this momentous joint event, where the players themselves found it necessary to stuck their fingers in their ears during the odd bar’s rest.

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Moments of extreme volume aside, however, this was a symbolic occasion, more so because it said something very affirmative about the cumulative strength of the arts in Scotland at a time when it is striving to get back on its feet. The concert, populated in the Adams by over 100 players, formed part of Glasgow’s hosting of the Association of British Orchestras’ Conference, where that theme, on a UK-wide basis, has no doubt dominated the agenda.

First thoughts? The RSNO and BBC SSO sounded like one glorious homogenous band, thanks to the needle-sharp clarity of German conductor Kevin John Edusei. He opened with the UK premiere of Canadian composer Samy Moussa’s Elysium, its dense opening chords like mighty pillars of sound, from which his heavenly vision ecstatically unfolds. A scintillating performance embraced that inexorable sense of uplift.

Spanish violinist María Dueñas was dazzling in Shostakovich’s hotly discursive Violin Concerto No 1, eliciting the volcanic intensity and biting sarcasm necessary to meet its physical and psychological demands. The odd-numbered slow movements screamed pathos, at times a melting radiance; the fast movements bore mind-blowing ferocity and harsh virtuosity.

Finally there came the Adams, a showpiece par excellence, effectively a symphony, which Edusei crafted with unfussy effectiveness, its pulverising opening chords a chilling call to attention before unleashing the glittering aural feast to follow. It was wonderful to see so many musicians en masse; less encouraging to witness so sparse an audience.

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