Rating: 5/5

Sir Alexander Gibson was one of the UK’s foremost champions of the symphonies of Jean Sibelius, so the music is certainly part of the heritage of Scotland’s national orchestra, even if it stretching a point to talk of it being in the DNA of the current complement of musicians. That is particularly true of a line-up that included three guest principles – timpanist Paul Philbert, bassoonist Xanthe Arthurs, and clarinettist Soo-Young Lee – who had crucial contributions to make to the evening.

What a superb concert this was, with Edward Gardner in magisterial form on the podium, ensuring that Sibelius’s structurally magnificent Symphony No2 was played with the sort of authority that honours that heritage. It is a cliché to talk of the depiction of landscape and nature in this composer’s work, but it is also no less palpably true. It was also the case that Gardner and the RSNO had brought the very different music of John Adams to equally vibrant dramatic life two hours earlier. The Chairman Dances, culled from his 1987 opera Nixon in China, moves from its “minimalist” opening to expansive orchestration in a way that mirror’s the composer’s own development, and the journey of the music of a generation of American composers from the experimental fringe to mainstream programming.

In between those contrasting triumphs came a reading of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto that utterly spell-binding and world class. Canadian James Ehnes is the most composed of performers and he made the technical demands of this virtuoso work look effortless, although there was no lack of passion in there as well. Felix Mendelssohn championed this work, with Joseph Joachim his soloist, and Fritz Kreisler contributed the first movement cadenza, but Saturday’s audience surely heard it played as brilliantly as it has ever been. An encore movement of a Bach Sonata from a player who had made one of the best recent recordings of solo Bach was the icing on the cake.