Usher Hall, Edinburgh

Martin Kershaw

four Stars

IF EVER there was an example of how crucial a conductor can be to the success of an orchestral performance, this was surely it. Simply put, Rafael Payare came out and lit a firecracker under the RSNO that burned bright and strong all evening. His vitality, authority and commitment were unflagging and irresistible, and the orchestra responded with consistent, bushy-tailed engagement. A good thing too, for there was no hiding place in this challenging programme. Kodaly’s Dances of Galanta certainly did not allow audience or players to ease themselves in – 15 minutes of intensely varied textures and tempos, deftly negotiated by conductor and ensemble, with guest principal clarinettist Jernej Albreht particularly impressive in his extended solo passages.

To follow was Beethoven’s 4th Piano Concerto – turbulent, determinedly virtuosic and highly demanding. Soloist Lars Vogt revelled in the warp and weft of the music – bullish and commandeering in the outer movements; measured and lyrical in the central Andante con moto. If I had one slight quibble it would be his tendency to inflect the timing of his phrasing during more rhythmic tutti passages – there were moments in the first movement when this threatened to derail the otherwise excellently sustained synchronicity between him and the orchestra.

The second half was entirely given over to Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances, in which the composer effectively undertakes an epic overview of his entire career. The result is almost too much - massive orchestral gestures one after another, giant swathes of overwhelming romanticism that are hard to digest. Payare and the RSNO moulded it all into a compelling musical journey though, rounding off a highly enjoyable, powerfully assured performance.