Usher Hall, Edinburgh

Keith Bruce

five stars

THE JUNGLE drums in Scottish music say that RSNO Chief Executive Alistair Mackie is insisting on the near-unanimous approval of his musicians before any approach is made to a successor for Music Director Thomas Sondergard, due to depart in 2026. So the rapport that is clearly developing between the players and Partick Hahn, newly appointed Principal Guest Conductor, should be noted.

The boyish Austrian first conducted the orchestra as an impressive last-minute replacement for the RSNO’s Conductor Emeritus Alexander Lazarev in November 2022 and his career is developing apace in Germany and his homeland as well as further afield.

Like his first RSNO concert and the one in the coming season, this programme featured core repertoire that is solid box office, Rachmaninov’s hour-long Symphony No 2 preceded by Liszt’s Piano Concerto No 1 with Ukrainian Vadym Kholodenko the soloist.

The opener, however, was less familiar: the 1943 Capriccio by the conductor’s countryman Gottfried von Einem. It is a superb little piece, packing a huge amount into less than ten minutes. Redolent of Prokofiev towards the end, it shows the influence of jazz earlier, something at which Hahn also excels. As a concert-starter, it was ideal, the rich orchestration giving every section an early work-out.

Kholodenko is simply one of the best classical pianists working today, a superb technician and the most stylish – if least flamboyant – of players. As in the Rachmaninov we heard from him with this orchestra five years ago (with Sondergard), its unfolding was immaculately measured and the climax every bit as “animato” as the composer intended.

Just as notable was the way Hahn’s baton was sensitive to every nuance of pacing from the piano behind him. There was mutual understanding of the work’s whole structure and great partnerships were audible between the soloist and the orchestral musicians – first clarinet, front desk of the violins, the cello section – from the opening  movement.

The low strings were also in brilliant ensemble form at the start of the Rachmaninov symphony. It has a long narrative, and skilled direction is required to prevent it from being a shaggy dog story, but Hahn told it very well.

There was plenty of energy on tap for the lively finale after the dying fall of the slow movement, and the Beethovian syncopations in the run up to the score’s closing pages were perfectly realised.

The RSNO responded superbly, collectively and individually, with fine playing from guest leader Ania Safonova and guest principal horn Stephen Craigen and a superb solo turn from principal clarinet Timothy Orpen in the Adagio.