Usher Hall, Edinburgh

A LITTLE sunny optimism does not go amiss at the moment, so the RSNO opening its new season with Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring on the same weekend as the BBC SSO played Schumann’s Spring Symphony was most welcome.

The Rite is one of those works at the top of the list to showcase the explosive power of an orchestra, requiring a vast number of musicians – nine horns, five each of clarinets and flutes, the exotic addition of a bass trumpet – and full of pounding rhythms.

Structurally lucid, with narrative titles for each of the 14 sections across its two parts, conductor Thomas Sondergard navigated its form at pace, making sure every detail of its complex and revolutionary orchestration was at the right level in the mix.

The challenges for individual players across its length, starting with first bassoon David Hubbard’s plaintive opening solo, are considerable, and the RSNO musicians did not put a foot (or a stick, bow or finger) wrong.

The other big work on the programme shared with the Stravinsky some highly individual orchestration. Britten’s Violin Concerto, written during his brief exile in North America in World War 2, is an early masterpiece where the combinations of instruments he uses and their dialogue with the soloist can still seem startling.

As for the demands on the violin soloist, those are considerable and American Stefan Jackiw is a player of prodigious talent who has something of the showman about him as well.

The fast second movement ends with a virtuosic cadenza of many contrasts and technical challenges, which he revelled in, and the work has a long dying fall, full of bent, bluesy notes that he played with expressive zeal. An encore of Bach was the icing on the cake.

The concert had opened with Stravinsky’s brief Fireworks, a nice choice of taster for the work that was to bring the evening to its climax, and the second half began with a world premiere from Glasgow-based Irish composer David Fennessy.

The Riot Act takes its inspiration from the confrontation between Red Clydeside’s striking workers and the authorities at the end of January 1919, when the military was brought in to support the police in what has become known as The Battle of George Square.

Fennessy makes full use of the huge Rite orchestra, asking the players to sing and four of them to blow referee whistles as well.

The toughest job goes to the vocal soloist, required to sing the titular piece of antique legislation against the cacophony, and tenor Mark Le Brocq produced a remarkable full-voiced performance.

The Riot Act is not a long piece, but it packs a huge punch and made its presence felt in the most exacting of company in this programme.