Sunday 1 February 2009

Lazarev and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra

Recently, it was announced that the RSNO's truncated Edinburgh season would be further shredded as the last two concerts, which had at least been expected to make it to the Usher Hall, would no longer take place (though they are offering free train travel to catch the Glasgow equivalents). In some respects, that made Friday's Festival Theatre offering the more precious. But, sadly, only in some respects.

By coincidence, less than a week after encountering him at the Festival Hall with the Philharmonia, Alexander Lazarev once again crossed my concert going path and, again, there was a high proportion of Russian music on the menu, though this time it was much less familiar to me. Owing to a need to build up flexi time for my trip to London next weekend, I had worked late, and almost decided not to go; it was something of a rush as it was. From the first notes, I was wide awake and most glad to have come.

He began with a Dvorak tone poem, long amongst my favourite parts of that composer's repertoire. The Water Goblin was the particular offering. Lazarev gave a lively and engaging reading, displaying many of the hallmarks he had found with the Philharmonia, not least bringing out from the orchestra an impressive co-ordination and dexterity in the faster moments. However, there was no shortage of tenderness to accompany this and, in general, he was much more convincing this time in the transitions between loud and quite moments.

Then things started to go wrong. Actually, in truth they had begun to go wrong fractionally sooner. This being the festival theatre, there was a front of house manager who is incapable of doing their job properly. During the quietest moment of the Dvorak, several people were let in noisily to the dress circle. Indeed, people seemed constantly to be being admitted. Why can they not wait of a suitable break like every other venue? For that matter, why on earth do they print on their tickets a warning to that effect, since they never stick to it. I have made this complaint before, but clearly I need to make it again. Would the theatre's management please give their FOH team the necessary instruction and if they still won't learn, hire some competent people: this isn't difficult to do right, if you don't believe me, visit the Royal Opera House.

Unfortunately, things went awry musically as well as violinist Alexandra Soumm took to the stage. She was to play the Glazunov violin concerto, a work new to me. Sadly, where the Dvorak had been invigorating, the Glazunov was soporific and even staying awake through the single movement (though three section) work was a bit of a challenge, too much of a challenge for the gentleman two rows in front of me who dozed throughout. It wasn't the case that the orchestra played badly, just that the work seemed to hold little of interest. Written in 1904, it only made me think how many better and more exciting concertos had been passed up.

Perhaps there are wonders in the work which can be brought out by the right soloist, certainly it would be interesting to know what Rachel Barton Pine would do with it. Interestingly, she was the last violin soloist we came across in the venue, and what a contrast. Soumm was uninspiring and found little of interest in the score.

Fortunately, better was to be had after the interval in Borodin's second symphony. The programme didn't attempt to sell it short, with Robin Versteeg describing it as arguably the greatest achievement in Russian symphonic writing (which brings to my mind a line I'm certain is from Humphrey Littelton to the effect that something is not an argument that anybody has ever won; infuriatingly, I can't remember to what he is referring, answers on a postcard, or in the comments please). Certainly it was a nice enough piece, but greatest? Even if I didn't take against sentences that run along the lines of "greatest ever...." I'd struggle with that. It seems a pretty poor cousin next to the passion and drama one finds in such works as Tchaikovsky's 6th (speaking of which, Mackerras conducts it with the Philharmonia next Sunday) or Shostakovich's 11th. It seemed much more a collection of ideas that happened to have been put together, rather than being bound in a common vision. While I'm glad to have heard it, I certainly won't rush to do so again. The orchestra played well, though Lazarev had them rather too loud rather too much of the time.

A mixed bag then. Roll on next year when the RSO will, with any luck, be back in their regular home (oh, and Donald Runnicles will have taken up his post with the BBC Scottish).

Update: 23/2/09

Well, after an arduous (okay, highly entertaining) few weeks listening through almost my entire collection of I'm Sorry I haven't a Clue recordings, I've finally tracked down the quote. For those who care, it comes in Volume Seven of the BBC's releases of the show, on track seven of disc two. In the words of the late, great Humph:

The teams are going to sing for us now in the round called Just a Minim. This is a musical version of the wireless classic Just a Minute, hosted by Nicholas Parsons, who is arguably the wittiest man on radio [long pause] though it's not an argument anybody's ever won.

Fifteen hours of listening well spent, you will doubtless agree (for some reason I started with the anniversary special).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You must have been about two rows behind me. Sitting two along from a guy who slept and snored throughout the entire first half! Althought I did notice the people being let in in the middle of the Dvorak it didn't seem so bad since it was less annoying than the snoring. Thought there was a little bit of tension between the soloist and conductor at some points in the Glazunov. Quite enjoyed it but wouldn't race back to hear it. As for the Dvorak and Borodin, they were entertaining but I was constantly put off by the little things which always seem to go wrong in the Festival Theatre which I blame on the acoustic. Last gig I saw in there was Deneve doing the Rite of Spring and it was distinctly underwhelming. While Friday was better there were still some sections where tuning, lack of projection etc was much more noticeable than it would be in a venue such as the Usher Hall or GRCH. Good night though.

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