A Romantic Evening in Edinburgh with Kluxen, Dinnerstein and the RSNO

 United KingdomUnited Kingdom  Ravel, Mozart, Puccini, Mascagni, R Strauss: Simone Dinnerstein (piano), Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Christian Kluxen (conductor), Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 10.02.2012 (SRT)

Ravel: La Valse
Mozart: Piano Concerto No. 21
Overture to Le Nozze di Figaro
Puccini: La Bohème Fantasy
Mascagni: Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana
R Strauss: Der Rosenkavalier suite

Does La Valse seem an unusual choice with which to begin a programme of Valentine’s Classics? Ravel’s evocation of the highday of the Viennese Waltz may have some very beautiful passages, but it’s primarily a portrait of a gilded society spiralling into decline and any successful performance has to hold both these elements in tension. Christian Kluxen, the RSNO’s Assistant Conductor, embraced the two extremes of the work, conjuring playing of glimmering sheen from the strings in the main body while creating a foggy, almost primordial sound out of the opening bars. Ravel’s score is a showpiece for a good orchestra, showing off each section like a revolving kaleidoscope, and as well as the big tunes there was some delightful cameo work from individual sections, including a delicious clarinet gurgle towards the opening. Chaos theory took a while to settle in, however, and until the very final bars Kluxen’s reading was perhaps a little too polite.

A little grace goes a long way with Mozart, however, and the elegance of the playing wrought by the smaller orchestra in Piano Concerto No. 21 was delightful. Simone Dinnerstein’s playing was just as perceptive, her dainty touch fitting in with the different sound world. Dinnerstein is a musically vigorous player, more at home in the outer movements than in the dreamy stillness of the famous Andante; her cadenzas were very impressive, even if they took us into harmonic territory that was rather far from Mozart’s, thus sounding a little incongruous at times.

The Romance kicked in decisively in the second half with an operatic mash-up that was as well planned as it was well played. The lush sounding late-Romantic world of Puccini and Strauss was right up the orchestra’s street and they revelled in every element of the sound. The La Bohème fantasy was lifted pretty much untouched from Puccini’s score, with the occasional vocal line being given to a solo instrument, such as the clarinet in Che gelida manina. The focus was primarily on Rodolfo and Musetta’s arias, though it was quite a lurch going straight from the merry atmosphere of Act 2 into Mimi’s death scene.

The Rosenkavalier suite was a delight, however. Strauss’s own transcription of his score, made in 1944, acts as a rattle through the highlights for anyone who knows the opera, but has the good sense to finish not with the final duet but with a rambunctious rendition of the waltz with which Ochs is ejected half-way through Act 3. Like the opera, but in a more condensed way, the suite shows off Strauss’s remarkable skills as an orchestrator, but here the interior detail is much more apparent without the singers or the constrictions of an orchestra pit to worry about. Everything from the libidinous horns (fresh from last week’s Don Juan) in the prelude to the icy flutes in the presentation scene, through to the colourful percussion in the finale and some wonderful solos showed that this is an orchestra that does Strauss very well indeed. Kluxen came into his own here, too, shaping the waltzes with lovely use of rubato to make them sound organic and alive. The highlight of the reading, however, was the music of the final trio and duet, rich and sensuous, melding seriousness with rapt beauty as it simultaneously suggests love and loss. Kluxen has an endearing energy about him which seems to fit lighter music particularly well, but his shaping of this great passage proved that he is just as capable of making something great out of music of weight and complexity.

Simon Thompson