Usher Hall, Edinburgh

Keith Bruce


AN element of the hoopla learned from North American orchestras is now part of the RSNO’s schtick, and the opening of its new season was none the worse for that, with violist and player board member Lisa Rourke introducing new music director Thomas Sondergard from her place in the orchestra.

In point of fact, by the time his inaugural season ends the conductor will have clocked up a decade on the podium with the band, having first stepped in to direct Shostakovich in 2009. Although the relationship with their new man is already well established, there was a real freshness to his interpretation of Mahler’s Fifth Symphony, established war horse of the repertoire that it is. There was no bombast at all in this reading, which was all about shades of orchestral colour and dynamics and the flow of the work, not excepting what was really a very long pause before the well-known “Death in Venice” Adagietto fourth movement.

The musicians supplied the details with finesse, most obviously principal trumpet Christopher Hart and horn Christopher Gough, but also John Whitener on tuba and Paul Philbert on timpani. Later this season, Sondergard has a concert entitled “A Young Person’s Guide”, including the Britten piece, and this was an early indication of that illustrative impulse.

The first half of the evening included a Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No 2 by Francesco Piemontesi that was as revelatory in its own way. There have been performances more rhythmically rigorous than this, but few of such refinement, so much so that the power of his playing never drew attention to itself although every note was clearly audible alongside the orchestra. It had been preceded by an opening nod to Sondergard’s stated commitment to new music with Lotta Wennakoski’s Flounce, premiered last year at the last night of the BBC Proms and a beautifully orchestrated ensemble piece that included just about every known piece of hand percussion.

A Schubert Impromptu by way of an encore by Piemontesi was the bonus treat of a splendid evening.