Royal Scottish National Orchestra

Usher Hall, Edinburgh

Miranda Heggie

four stars

BOOKENDED by Brahms, Friday’s proceedings began with Nänie, a poignant work for chorus and orchestra written to commemorate the passing of a close friend. Unable to find a suitable text in neither the Bible nor the Quran, Brahms set the words of poet, playwright and philosopher Friedrich Schiller. Conductor James Feddeck smoothly guided the orchestra with grace and refinement, though the chorus here sounded a little feeble. That was certainly not the case in the second half, where their delivery was direct, clear and punchy in the UK premiere of Irish composer Gerald Barry’s Humiliated and Insulted. Named after an early Dostoevsky novel, the music is brash and jagged, and played here with a supercilious, jeering quality that perfectly captured the essence of what it is to insult.

German pianist Alice Sara Ott joined the orchestra to play Beethoven’s third piano concerto. Her range of tone was astounding, from clean and clear cut to melting impressionism. The passing of the melody between soloist and orchestra was seamless, Ott consistently communicating with the string section behind her. Feddeck’s conducting was spirited and impassioned, though still with the poise of the earlier Brahms.

The highlight of the programme however was Brahms’ Third Symphony. The majestic, unashamedly romantic sound produced here rose and fell beautifully under Feddeck’s baton, as he guided the orchestra through this meaty, stormy symphony. The deliciously melancholy third movement was particularly moving, with sumptuous string harmonies underpinned by the RSNO’s 7-strong double bass section. The final movement opened with a brooding sense of intrigue, with tension slowly building, before the sound transformed, illuminating the music in a glowing finale.