RSNO Brings Impressive Grandeur in Nielsen’s Fourth Symphony

02/05/2015

 Sibelius, Grieg, Nielsen: Christian Ihle Hadland (piano), Royal Scottish National Orchestra, John Storgårds (conductor), Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 01.05.2015 (SRT)

Sibelius: Nightride and Sunrise
Grieg: Piano Concerto
Nielsen: Symphony No. 4 The Inextinguishable

 

For the second weekend in a row, the RSNO gave us Nordic music with a Nordic maestro, only this week it was the Finnish John Storgårds in charge rather than the Danish Thomas Søndergård from last week.  Storgårds has played in Edinburgh before, but I’ve only ever heard him with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra.  He has clearly struck up a good relationship with the RSNO, though, because their playing for him exuded trust and a sense of being willing to follow him.  That was most evident in Nielsen’s prickly Fourth Symphony, which had such an explosive beginning that it felt like being dropped into the middle of a chemical reaction!  The orchestra rode the great arch of Nielsen’s score with impressive grandeur, culminating in a blazingly positive final wave.  However, this wasn’t just about fireworks, though the timpani battle of the finale was mighty impressive.  Instead Storgårds carefully controlled the build-up and release of tension so that the ebb and flow of the music sounded perfectly natural: what lay between the peaks mattered just as much as the climaxes.  My Nielsen conversion continues apace: last week was no fluke!

Nightride and Sunrise, meanwhile, is Sibelius’ nature painting at its very best, and his organic way with rhythm suits the image of the steadily changing sky very well.  The RSNO brass (particularly the horns) really outdid themselves at the moment of the sunrise itself, glowing marvellously and underpinned with massive strength, but the preceding section had its great touches, too, and I enjoyed the way that the incessant rhythm of the riding never became monotonous but was always shot through with various flecks of colour.  The orchestra were also on top form for the evergreen Grieg concerto, strings made in heaven in the slow movement; full, focused and totally on the note as well as the spirit.  Christian Ihle Hadland matched them well in the second and third movements, the overt theatricals of the finale suiting him best of all.  The first movement was not a success, however. He opened the work with a self-conscious air, and he repeatedly seemed to be pushing the tempo forwards, unwilling to fit with what Storgårds was trying to do.  Furthermore, the calmer section at the start of the cadenza was distended to the point where it almost sounded grotesque.  Technically Hadland is a good pianist but, while there is a lot of potential, I’m not sure that he is yet a good collaborator.

Simon Thompson

 

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