Music review: RSNO Beethoven Revolution 1, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

Beethoven is everywhere, not surprisingly in his 250th anniversary year. The key question for any organisation, though, is how to celebrate without tokenism a composer so individual, so vital, so visionary, so timeless.
RSNO Principal Guest Conductor Elim ChanRSNO Principal Guest Conductor Elim Chan
RSNO Principal Guest Conductor Elim Chan

RSNO Beethoven Revolution 1, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall ****

The RSNO has gone for the moderate approach in its five-concert Beethoven Revolution series, an unfussy selection of key symphonies and concertos, coupled with composers deemed to have benefitted from Beethoven’s benchmarking, which of course is a pretty open field.

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Principal guest conductor Elim Chan threw down a challenging gauntlet with an opener featuring the Seventh Symphony, which is a bit like opening a Ceilidh with a hell-for-leather Eightsome Reel, such is the delirious repetitive vigour and self-propelling inevitability of a work fuelled by the spirit of the dance. Chan’s teasingly reserved sostenuto introduction made it all the more exciting, its shapely theatrics remorselessly cast aside to let the remainder the work - the ensuing rhythmically obsessive vivace, the niftily scored allegretto, the breathless scherzo and dizzying finale - run its riotous course, the stratospheric horns whooping like whirling dervishes on the dance floor.

That same intoxicating spirit informed the concert opener, Jörg Widmann’s virtuosic Con brio. Written to partner Beethoven’s 7th and 8th symphonies, it’s a frenzied menagerie of modernist soundscape shot through with ghostly distortions of Beethoven. This performance brilliantly captured its virtuosic irreverence.

In between, Dutch violinist Noa Wildschut, in her RSNO debut, brought refreshing insight, electrifying precision and melting expressive tone to Bruch’s Violin Concerto. A warhorse with a welcome makeover.