Perth Concert Hall

Keith Bruce

five stars

THE stage set up, with a smaller number of music stands and very few chairs, was the first indication that this would be an exceptional concert. Then the musicians were applauded on the stage, and turned to face us for a pre-performance bow. It’s the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Jim, but not as we know it.

When it became clear that conductor Nathalie Stutzmann would be unable to honour her commitment to conduct these concerts, the RSNO was in the process of putting together its programme for next season, and the musicians posited a new approach for two concerts of the music of Beethoven, with co-leader Sharon Roffman directing the orchestra from her position on the front desk of the first violins. Next April we’ll hear the Fourth Symphony, as part of the orchestra’s marking of the composer’s anniversary year, but first was the Fifth and the most famous opening of any symphony.

AS Roffman pointed out, however, in her thoroughly engaging remarks to the large audience, there is much more to Beethoven 5 than those few bars. And there was a great deal in the orchestra’s fresh, crisp, historically-informed approach to the music to grab the attention, with the final bars of the Andante second movement beautifully measured and the winds-and-pizzicato-strings segue into the opening of the Allegro finale as dynamically realised as you will ever hear it.

With the bulk of the small band standing to play for both the symphony and the opening Coriolan Overture, this was the RSNO showing that it can be equally at home in territory more usually occupied by Scotland’s smaller ensembles, and it was further reduced in size to play Mozart’s Flute and Harp Concerto with principals Katherine Bryan and Pippa Tunnell as the soloists. Here too the balance was spot on in the Perth Hall’s sparkling acoustic, and the pair brought the repertoire for their oft-combined instruments up to date with an encore arrangement of Morricone’s Gabriel’s Oboe from the soundtrack to The Mission, which was a cute nod to another side the orchestra’s work altogether.

That versatility was showcased sensationally in this concert. The current, collegiate, membership of this orchestra is able to realise its collective ambition in a way that would surely astonish the more hierarchical incarnations of the past.