BBC SSO/Hermus

City Halls, Glasgow

Keith Bruce


ON THE day before the RSNO introduced Scotland to the force of nature that is violinist Sandy Cameron at its Danny Elfman gala concerts, the guest soloist with Scotland’s broadcasting orchestra proved to be another scintillating talent from America. Soprano Sara Hershkowitz is singing the more familiar fare of the “mad scene” from Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor in Aberdeen, but Glasgow heard (and, crucially, saw) an astonishing performance of the three-part aria from Ligeti’s Mysteries of the Macabre. Clad in a shimmering silver sheath dress slashed to the hip, Hershkowitz gave us a ten minute explosion of avant-garde music-theatre that interacted with the front desk of the violas and conductor Antony Hermus, and employed the props of a carry-out bucket of chicken legs and a two litre bottle of a well-known Scottish fizzy drink, its branding carefully removed by the Beeb.

That “kilt” on her performance was justified by a mention of the Loch Ness Monster in the stream of surreal code-language that is the libretto of a piece that was an amazing feat of memory as well as stratospheric coloratura singing. Check out the live-stream of the performance on the orchestra’s website as well as tuning in to next week’s transmission of the concert for a visceral experience.

And that was not even the night’s main attraction. The second half of the evening was Henk de Vlieger’s hour-an-a-bit summary of the music of Wagner’s epic opera cycle in The Ring: an orchestral adventure. The RSNO has tackled this work both in the studio with Neeme Jarvi, over a decade ago, and in its Naked Classics concert strand more recently, but this Dutchman proved an ideal choice for the job. Now a guest conductor with Opera North, Hermus steered the huge orchestra through the arc of the narrative and all its lovely details with masterly clarity. The jump-cuts in Vlieger’s editing early in the suite jar a bit, but the Gotterdammerung climax was beautifully realised.

There was not a lot wrong with the opening Haydn Symphony, No.22 “The Philosopher”, either, but it is rather po-faced for all its instrumental novelty, and struggled in the company it was keeping here.