Music review: The RSNO & Thomas Søndergård

With the RSNO dedicating this concert to the victims of the Manchester bombing last week, it was apt that there was a sombre element to the music. Conductor Thomas Søndergård, the orchestra's newly appointed music director designate, swapped the first and last movements around of Sibelius' incidental music for the play Kuolema (Death) to great effect.

Thomas Søndergård PIC: Martin Bubandt

The RSNO & Thomas Søndergård ****

Usher Hall, Edinburgh

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Starting with the lilting strings in the dance-like Canzonetta, plangent clarinet lines added luminosity in Scene with Cranes before the funereal Valse triste. Gradually building momentum, the waltz hurtled out of control until a quartet of first violins brought this episode to a heart-stopping end.

Poetry and music are blended to perfection in Mahler’s ravishing Rückert-Lieder. Mezzo-soprano Jennifer Johnston infused these five love songs with a warmth tinged with sadness. Søndergård led the orchestra through a polished and dynamic account of Beethoven’s Leonore Overture No 3, capturing the full emotional panoply of this powerful story in 15 action-packed minutes. The majestic Swan Hymn from the horns which rolls like a wave through the finale of Sibelius’ Symphony No.5 is so good it’s been pinched for many a pop song. The journey to this point was just as thrilling.

The musicians cavorted through the idiosyncratic opener with its desolate textures and edgy bassoon riffs, then the calmer rustic andante before Søndergård milked the pauses between the final six punchy chords to end on a dramatic high.