With Strauss's mighty Also Sprach Zarathustra looming, the RSNO eased us in to this concert with comparatively lighter fare in the form of Prokoviev's Selections from Cinderella and Mozart's Piano Concerto No 23.
This said, it was a slightly nervy first half: the Prokoviev began strongly enough, but the more rhythmically demanding material in the middle sections occasionally revealed weaknesses in the ensemble, even if the final Waltz and Midnight excerpts showed a resurgence in confidence. Similarly, there was a niggling lack of cohesion in the Mozart, within the orchestra and in the way it interacted with the soloist, Saleem Abboud Ashkar. This was not helped by Ashkar's own free approach to Mozart's beautifully wrought melodies, which surely require the minimum of stylistic manipulation to achieve their sublime effect.
Redemption came in the second half with a truly masterful performance of Strauss's sprawling Nietsche-inspired epic. It was now that the conductor, Kazushi Ono, really showed his mettle, expertly steering the huge ensemble through the swirling complexities of the music with an assurance that never faltered.
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Particularly impressive was the way in which the players, under Ono's confident direction, seamlessly moved from one section to the next, giving a wonderful sense of organic structure and flow to a piece that seems to defy rationalisation. Highlights, other than the opening Sunrise section, were to be found throughout: the perfectly shaped built-in tension in Of Science And Learning; the admirably judged Dance-Song, whose waltz-like character can so easily sound incongruous with what has gone before, but here sounded appropriate; the final, sparse sustained chords, initially suggesting a peaceful resolution, but ultimately leaving a question mark over the entire enterprise.