Music review: RSNO & Philippe Quint, Usher Hall, Edinburgh

There was no denying Philippe Quint’s conviction and energy in the UK premiere performance of Errollyn Wallen’s new Violin Concerto​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​, writes David Kettle

RSNO, Joana Carneiro & Philippe Quint, Usher Hall, Edinburgh ****

With two 21st-century pieces on the programme – one a UK premiere, the other a first Scottish outing – plus a classic from the early 20th century, it was hardly surprising, though a shame all the same, that the audience was so thin for the RSNO’s concert under Portuguese-born powerhouse Joana Carneiro. It was a particular shame, though, since the orchestra was on such exceptional form under Carneiro’s eager, fearsomely focused direction.

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They were lustrous and glittering in the sometimes hilariously over-the-top Nyx by Esa-Pekka Salonen (getting its Scottish premiere), all Technicolor brilliance and hyperactive movement. The piece seemed to glory in its own excess, but nonetheless got all the straight-faced conviction it needed from a demanding, driven Carneiro and the RSNO players. At times it might have been a John Williams film score after several tabs of acid.

Philippe Quint PIC: John GressPhilippe Quint PIC: John Gress
Philippe Quint PIC: John Gress

There was similar vividness in Stravinsky’s Petrushka that closed the concert: Carneiro’s musical storytelling ensured that every one of the composer’s sonic illustrations hits its mark, though her sometimes relentless energy meant there wasn’t always time to fully take them. Nonetheless, she kept the RSNO players firmly on their toes, and the result was an account that was fresh and sometimes deliciously raw: the opening Shrovetide Fair was busy and brittle, while the famous Russian Dance scampered along with light-footed spirit.

Bookended by such colour and activity, and by such deft ways of using them, Errollyn Wallen’s new Violin Concerto – getting its first UK performance from its dedicatee, US violinist Philippe Quint – sounded perplexingly grey at times, its unpredictable orchestral hues from shifting smaller groups as broad as its styles and references, from clangorous bells to yearning melody to James Last-style lounge pop. There was no denying Quint’s unwavering passion, conviction and sheer sustained energy, however, nor his laser-like focus on conveying Wallen’s eclectic references.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​