We haven't seen them in the Royal since before Christmas, and the gap has been a bit weird as they headed off to China on December 27, leaving the city without its Messiah and Viennese Gala.
On Saturday night normal service resumed, and they launched their return with a new conductor, the young Christophe Altstaedt from the Tirol Orchestra of Innsbruck, a powerhouse performance of Schumann's Piano Concerto from Barry Douglas, and a robust account of Dvorak's Eighth Symphony.
Opening the proceedings was an effective, eclectic little piece by Russian composer Victoria Borisova-Ollas. Entitled Open Ground, the piece worked on several levels: it had good atmospheres, a minimalistic feel in its rhythms and repetitions, some punchy accents, lots of chattering in the woodwinds followed by scurrying and scampering in the strings, and some bold trumpet fanfares.
Whether all this amounted to more than the sum of its parts I'm not sure, though I did like the filmic feel of the score, and was impressed at the way it receded into light and distance with high strings, harp and bell sounds, and little woodwind flurries.
Barry Douglas's Schumann had a brilliant definition about it, though with more passion than poetry, and with a curiously perfunctory feel about the way he threw off the opening phrase of the second movement. Thankfully the serene cello theme was unphased.
In Altstaedt's Dvorak Eight, RSNO playing had a warm glow, with decisive leading from the front keeping things exciting and moving forward.