Music review: RSNO & Thomas Søndergård, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

The RSNO’s account of Dvorak’s New World Symphony was a refreshed vision of a venerable warhorse, writes Ken Walton
Thomas Søndergård and the RSNOThomas Søndergård and the RSNO
Thomas Søndergård and the RSNO

RSNO & Thomas Søndergård, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall *****

A bit of creative thinking and the RSNO came up with a programme neatly referencing the concurrence in Glasgow of COP26. We had the naturalistic sound of migrating swans, Dvorak’s symphonic message From the New World and the soloist Midori, a UN messenger of peace, performing the world premiere of a violin concerto originally intended for last season but delayed due to the pandemic. If there was something of a package of convenience in all of this, it neither detracted from, nor necessarily enhanced, what proved to be an evening of red-hot music.

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It began with an enchanting theatrical touch: no obvious sign of music director Thomas Søndergård on the podium for Rautavaara’s Swans Migrating (the final movement of his Cantus Arcticus), the lights dimmed for the distant emergence of prerecorded swans. Søndergård appeared surreptitiously from within the ranks to guide the orchestra through its crescendoing response, an almost filmic experience coloured by majestic fireside themes and iridescent textures.

Detlev Glanert’s new Violin Concerto No 2, subtitled To the Immortal Beloved and inspired by Beethoven’s unsent letter to an unnamed woman, proved equally Romantic in essence, Midori expressing its tracts of gestural grandiloquence and calm with unsentimental warmth. But it’s a work also driven by softly energised modernism, waves of fitfulness that find their greatest emotional outpourings in the keynote cadenzas. These found Midori at her most grippingly authoritative, firm but teasingly sensitive.

When Dvorak’s New World Symphony issues endless moments that seem fresh off the page, you know you’re witnessing something special. Such was this cracking performance in which Søndergård’s exploration of uncharted detail, his naturally expressive fluidity, and the vital musical response he inspired from his players amounted to a refreshed vision of a venerable warhorse.

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