United Kingdom Ravel, Haydn, Prokofiev: Natalie Clein (cello), Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Thomas Søndergård (conductor), Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 22.10.2011 (SRT)
Ravel: Valses nobles et sentimentales
Haydn: Cello Concerto No. 1 in C
Prokofiev: Symphony No. 5
Just a few days ago the RSNO announced that Danish conductor Thomas Søndergård is to be their new Principal Guest Conductor. It’s a good development, both for him and for the orchestra. Søndergård is a great stage presence who gets good results but he hasn’t quite broken into the super-league yet. He has conducted the RSNO before and they clearly enjoy playing for him so it’s good to have him built into the orchestra’s artistic team for a few years at least. He is an excellent communicator on the podium, often using his whole body to shape the sound he wants, so he’s a treat to watch as well as to listen to.
I loved the individual character he gave to each movement in Prokofiev’s Fifth Symphony; the brooding majesty of the first movement and the dark lyricism of the third through to the quicksilver brightness of the finale. It was the Scherzo that saw him at his best, however, bringing out plenty of the composer’s wit and showing more than a touch of the ballet in his reading. This movement bounded along with plenty of dynamic bounce and a real sense of humour and the orchestral players clearly loved every minute of it too. Søndergård also accentuated the shafts of individual colour in the finale, with deft virtuosity from the orchestra and just a hint of hollow irony in the final pages.
The Ravel Valses were also a showcase for the way Søndergård can shape an orchestral palette, achieving a self-consciously big sound in the first and seventh waltzes but paring down the sound to playing of wonderful delicacy in the others, while the epilogue was icy, mysterious, even spooky.
Yet another sound world was created for the Haydn concerto, with a winning busyness for the outer movements and expansive breadth for the middle one. Any performance featuring the excellent Natalie Clein is worth seeing as well as hearing. When she played the Elgar concerto in 2010 I commented that the cello seemed to be an extension of her body, so gracefully and intently does she use it, and the same proves true for her Haydn: she ebbs and flows with the music so that she seems to become one with her instrument, producing playing of intense concentration but immense beauty. The chocolaty mellowness of the lower ranges of the cello contrasts well with the songful beauty of the longer melodies, especially in Haydn’s slow movement and, in an evening of successful partnerships, this was one of the most successful moments.