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

Thomas Søndergård’s reading of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring was resonant, colourful and rich in detail – but it was just one of the many delights in an outstanding evening of music, writes Ken Walton

RSNO: The Rite of Spring, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall *****

The Royal Scottish National Orchestra’s season opener was billed The Rite of Spring, for the obvious reason that Stravinsky’s controversial masterpiece was deemed the star attraction, but this programme was about so much more than a single work.

Hide Ad

In addition were a world premiere, a rare sighting of a Britten concerto, and a sort, sharp Stravinsky taster to the main dish.

The RSNO and Thomas Søndergård PIC: Sally Jubb
Hide Ad

Stravinsky’s four-minute orchestral fantasy Fireworks not only acted as an explosive aperitif but, through the cleansing precision and fiery volatility of this performance under music director Thomas Søndergård, served as the perfect preparation for Britten’s 1940 Violin Concerto.

Britten’s wartime work is extraordinarily powerful, almost exhausting itself in the opening movement, the impassioned insistence of the opening Moderato rich in bittersweet Prokofiev-like clashes and an ominously repetitive timpani motif.

Hide Ad

Yet it’s the way Britten extends its life beyond that is so beguiling, a kind of aftershock visualised through the sharp-edged Scherzo and timeless Passacaglia.

The American violinist Stefan Jackiw had its full measure, his playing style calm and confident, yet packed with such powerful and perceptive musicality that every gesture, every paragraph was meaningful and emotive. Most of all, he had the intellectual stamina to sustain attention to the very final utterance.

The second half began with Scots-based composer David Fennessey’s The Riot Act, commissioned as part of the RSNO’s Scotch Snaps series and inspired by the way in which the Act was used in attempting to quell the so-called Battle of George Square in Glasgow in 1919.

Featuring a screaming tenor (Mark Le Brocq), battling against an orchestral offensive topped by deafening whistles, drums and, eventually, a singing RSNO, its brazen outrage brought the house down.

Hide Ad

So did Søndergård’s version of The Rite of Spring, wonderfully resonant and colourful, patiently rich in detail, yet still with that vital, bewitching rhythmic compulsion.