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

Featuring an atmospheric new composition by Carlijn Metselaar, inspired by the writings of Nan Shepherd, this was an RSNO performance to remember, writes Ken Walton

Thomas Sondergard
Thomas Sondergard

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

What better way to epitomise classical music’s emergence from the stifling, in some cases ridiculous restrictions placed on it over the past year than an orchestral programme packed with such ripe ingredients: a brand spanking new work; a lip-smacking concerto performance; and a full-fat Romantic symphony roasted to perfection.

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We may not have consumer attendance up to pre-pandemic levels yet, but that will come, especially when the promise is as wholesome and scintillating as Saturday’s RSNO performances under music director Thomas Søndergård.

The brief opener was by Dutch-born, Edinburgh-based Carlijn Metselaar, 2019-20 winner of the orchestra’s Composer’s Hub Scheme. Inspired by Nan Shepherd’s published memoirs of her climbing experiences in the Cairngorms, Into The Living Mountain exudes moody and arresting ambiguities between wildness and tranquility, threat and familiarity.

A bold opening theme gives way to a canvas of sharp, shifting colours and fleeting moods, Metselaar’s fine-tuned textures heightening their iridescence, before a late plunge into mysterious depths. Søndergård shaped its contours with touching sensibility.

The sudden jolt, as Patricia Kopatchinskaja took to the stage for Stravinsky’s Violin Concerto, could hardly have been more electrifying. Here was the extreme theatre of the evening, the lively Moldovan-born violinist adorned in a magnificently-coloured dress, an artistic statement in itself, tossing off her slipper-like shoes to transform this concerto into something even more supercharged than it usually is.

Ever the one in charge, she ripped through the composer’s neoclassical frenzy with the choreographed dynamism of a rock star, even giving us “the cadenza Stravinsky didn’t write” – her own breathtaking creation – as a show-stopping encore.

Rachmaninov’s Second Symphony was the perfect follow-up, Søndergård dispensing with his baton and allowing his hands to mould a truly seismic performance, intuitively paced, rich in every detail, breathtaking.

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