Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

Keith Bruce

four stars

THE absence of veteran composer and conductor Krzysztof Penderecki from his scheduled appearances with the RSNO this weekend turned into a bonus in some ways, because it showed quite what an asset is music director Thomas Sondergard, who added Penderecki’s Second Violin Concerto, Metamorphosen, to his own busy schedule at short notice. Soloist Anne-Sophie Mutter, for whom the concerto was written over twenty years ago, must appreciate the opportunities to perform the work, but I’d guess that hearing it interpreted afresh was also a particular treat.

If the soloist is on a virtuosic journey over the arc of the piece’s 40-plus minutes, the music for the orchestra often moves in small, incremental, chromatic steps, with deliberate exchanges between the winds and the string sections and colourful gloss on the score by percussion and celeste.

The work does seem to lack forward progression about two-thirds through, but its final ten minutes are utterly mesmeric, with big brass passages framing an astonishing cadenza and then a plaintive violin solo. Those final pages of the score feature some very testing shifts of tempo and pacing, which made Sondergard’s mastery of the work no mean feat. Mutter’s encore was, perfectly, part of a Bach Partita.

Following the interval, Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony was another opportunity to enjoy the conductor’s interest in precise definition of a familiar work. The generous space he encouraged Matt Glendening’s clarinet and Christopher Gough’s horn to occupy in the first two movements was all part of a strategy of bravely deliberate pacing to make the music as clear as possible. This was an old school, dramatic – even melodramatic – reading of the work that perhaps tired just a little in the middle of the finale but recovered quickly to serve up an absolutely electric last few bars.