Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

Michael Tumelty

five stars

NO holds barred: the RSNO’s concert on Saturday night, with the ever-reliable and increasingly interesting principal guest conductor Thomas Sondergard at the helm, was a strong candidate for a high point of this still-young autumn season. I have no idea what Sondergard’s secret is. I’ve met him just once. He seems to be a man of no pretensions, a pragmatist whose feet are firmly on the ground. He doesn’t bring theatrical gestures to his conducting. There’s nothing artificial or “arty” in his direction of the orchestra. He does bring a massive sense of purpose to music-making, and he certainly galvanises the RSNO into some extraordinary playing at all extremes of expression: their opening Mahler performances of Blumine, a gorgeous piece, and What the Wild Flowers Tell Me, from the Third Symphony, brought remarkably stylish and utterly seductive playing from the RSNO; on this form they are a gobsmacking band.

And at the other end of the night, Sondergard walloped Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony into a fast, ultra-virile masterpiece of sheer energy, delivered almost as a continuum by the RSNO playing with a concentration and drive that were both gripping and breath-taking.

I have to say, however, that everything stopped, including time, my regular breathing and heartbeat, at the spell-binding performance by Janine Jansen of Sibelius’ Violin Concerto, which, from first bar to last, was suffused with an emotional intensity that I confess I found tricky to handle. This has to be personal: I do not know when I was last so profoundly touched as during her playing of the slow movement. It was heart-moving, beyond words and into tears.