Three stars

IT was a somewhat scaled-back band that graced the stage of the Usher Hall on Friday night. Playing as a smaller ensemble than their usual, the orchestra gave a rigorous yet sensitive portrayal of works by Schumann and Mendelssohn. Making her RSNO debut, violinist Esther Yoo was completely at home with the orchestra as she performed Mendelssohn’s violin concerto with tight dexterity and balanced grace and a tone which was lean yet strong, deliberate yet gentle. Her cadenzas sparkled, with seriously impressive ornamentation and silkily subtle double-stopping, though it was her dialogue with the orchestra which really showcased her command of the music.

Opening proceedings with the overture to Schumann’s only opera, Genoveva – which was written at the same time as Wagner’s Lohengrin and most probably inspired by the same medieval German folklore – the sound was instantly dramatic. A bit more finesse in the finer detail would have been welcome though. More starkly exposed, the strings sometimes sounded a little stodgy, although the woodwind was lightsome and the brass rich and warm. Conductor Richard Norrington’s style is certainly not flamboyant; on first glance his hand movements might have looked unremarkable, even inconsequential, but on closer inspection the weight behind them was evident – his minimal conducting perfectly captured the feel of the period.

Sticking with Schumann for the second half, the composer’s second symphony didn’t completely lift the orchestra off the ground, despite robust playing. Beginning with regal poise, Norrington played with the tempi, tonality and temperament as much as was possible and the scrunching dissonances in the third movement were given just enough time to sign into existence without becoming obviously exaggerated.