Last Friday presented an interesting programme from the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. Interesting because it featured two works I know well, and two artists I've never come across before.
The concert opened with Beethoven's first piano concerto with Ingrid Fliter as the soloist. She endeared herself to me immediately, prominently displaying at least one trait I adore: delicacy. This certainly helped make for a beautiful and generally compelling account. However, at times I did want for Paul Lewis's skill at mixing delicacy with weight. Whether she became better, or I simply warmed to her approach, the last movement was especially fine. Underneath her, young Danish conductor Tomas Sondergard, standing in for Yakov Kreizberg, provided solid accompaniment, though occasionally, mostly in the largo, he wasn't quite soft enough for her quiet style. She was warmly received and returned to the platform to dazzle us with a sparkling rendition of Chopin's minute waltz (op.64/1). She has recorded them all - should be well worth a listen (and those who can access Spotify can do so here).
Even better was to follow. After the interval came Shostakovich's eleventh symphony, The Year 1905. This has long been my favourite of his symphonies, ever since I got to know it through Rostropovich's superb recording with the London Symphony Orchestra. Of course, weighing in at over seventy minutes, that's hardly a typical reading; at the other end of the spectrum Kondrashin is home and having tea before Rostropovich has even got started on the finale! It's a mark of the greatness of the work that it responds well to both approaches. Sondergard opted for the middle ground, his reading weighing in at around an hour. Under him the playing of the RSNO was extremely tight and well drilled, with an appropriately military feel at times. Indeed, it slightly felt as if the band were significantly better rehearsed for the second half (not, mind, to say they were bad before the interval). Shostakovich's score is both vivid and evocative and Sondergard captured this in his reading. He was very dynamic on the podium and seemed to have a tight grip on his forces.
There are hairs that could be split. In the quieter moments, especially the wonderful slow opening, and the same theme's return in the finale, there wasn't quite the pin-drop near silence that would have maximised the drama, and which the orchestra are capable of delivering, save for a few moments in the adagio. Forte, and more, presented no such problems, with terrifically thrilling climaxes to both the second movement and the finale. By the close he had the orchestra in a frenzy, beset by dramatic bells tolling. Then, in the fabulous ending, this juggernaut, this almost unstoppable force of music, is brought up short, mid-flow, by an immovable object. The result, a chasm of silence that feels as if a great number of very heavy objects have just been dropped on you. What a shame, then, that one member of the audience couldn't wait to applaud and robbed the moment of its ultimate power.
Niggles aside, though, it was a superb evening. Hopefully we'll see more of both Fliter and Sondergard.