RSNO Find its Form with Oundjian
United Kingdom Wagner, Mozart, Walton: Richard Goode (piano), Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Peter Oundjian (conductor), Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 7.2.2014 (SRT)
Wagner: Tannhäuser overture
Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 17
Walton: Symphony No. 1
After a fairly so-so performance of Brahms’ First Piano Concerto last week, the RSNO found its form much more securely in tonight’s varied programme. Importantly, the gleaming clarity that characterises their sound at its best was back on prominent show, thanks, perhaps, to the fact that they were playing under their music director. The sheen on the brass, in particular, was not only powerful but bursting with colour. Perhaps that power became a little too much in Walton’s First Symphony. It’s never a symphony I’ve been particularly fond of (for me, though its impact can be thrilling, it relies a little too much on fifth gear), and there were times when the visceral impact of the brass climaxes drowned out much of the string figuration, a balance problem that you hope would have been sorted out in rehearsal. That’s not to underline the vigour with which Oundjian organised and built all the long-worked climaxes, but my favourite passage was the dialogue for winds at the start of the slow movement, remarkable in its sense of interplay and the most delicately balanced part of the symphony.
The balance was just right in the Tannhäuser overture. Both the outer sections moved with steadiness of purpose, without ever plodding, and the Venusberg was sprightly and ardent at the same time. The trombones, in particular, glowed at their big statements of the pilgrims’ theme. Equally successful, but entirely different, was the chamber-like sonority that accompanies Mozart’s G major Concerto. It was the delicacy of the playing that I enjoyed the most, the strings seeming almost to tickle each of Mozart’s playful phrases in the outer movement, but capped by a fabulous choir of winds at the centre of the sound. Goode played with his trademark sense of grace and flair (he is so good at these middle piano concertos!) and with a bit of singing along with the cadenzas. You can’t avoid that with this pianist, but at least it marks his engagement with what he plays.