Music review: RSNO & Eva Ollikainen, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

In spite of a few last-minute personnel changes, this was an exhilarating performance from the RSNO, writes Ken Walton

The RSNO
The RSNO

RSNO: Eva Ollikainen Glasgow Royal Concert Hall ****

Finnish conductor Eva Ollikainen may have lost her debut slot last week with the RSNO when “pandemic-related complications” prevented her from travelling to Scotland. But such is the unpredictability of our times that when this weekend’s scheduled conductor Elim Chan pulled out, who should be available but Ollikainen.

She wasn’t the only replacement in this sunny programme of Ravel and Tchaikovsky. Pianist Javier Perianes was also drafted in last-minute to fill the shoes of the incapacitated Bertrand Chamayou. Unchanged, however, was the music, in particular a festive selection of popular numbers from Tchaikovsky’s ballet The Nutcracker, featuring a refreshing return to the stage by the RSNO Junior Chorus.

It was here that Ollikainen showed her true worth, focusing on the the glittering delicacies of Tchaikovsky’s filigree scoring. The result was enchanting, from the picture book sparkle of the Miniature Overture and exotic Spanish, Arabian and Chinese dances to the chocolate box popularity of the Toy Soldiers and Sugar Plum Fairy. Ollikainen shaped the sequence tenderly, but also with a natural spring in its step, making the arrival at the final Waltz of the Snowflakes all the more exhilarating, topped by the endearing homogeneity of the Junior Chorus voices.

If that all seemed a world away from the low-intensity realisation of Ravel’s iridescent seascape, Une barque sur l’océan, which opened the concert, Perianes’ performance of the same composer’s Piano Concerto in G was a surer sign of what was to come. Even then, it wasn’t until the second movement that something special began to happen.

That time-stopping instant in the Adagio, where the orchestra enters almost imperceptibly, was a game-changer, a sudden awakening where chemistry finally flowed between Ollikainen and the RSNO. An exuberant finale followed, then a luminous Da Falla encore from Perianes.

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