United Kingdom Haydn, Mendelssohn, Brahms: Dejan Lazić (piano), Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Thomas Søndergård (conductor), Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 25.10.2013 (SRT)
Haydn: Symphony No. 99
Mendelssohn: Piano Concerto No. 1
Brahms: Symphony No. 4
Maybe I’m biased in his favour, but I always think the RSNO play especially well for Thomas Søndergård. Now in his second season as Principal Guest Conductor, Søndergård seems to go from strength to strength with these players. I especially like his gift for a buoyant rhythm. His Haydn, for example, was all delicately sprung flexibility, full of poise and good humour, and he teased out some delectable interplay between the strings and winds in the slow movement, before a finale full of sunshine. The RSNO are by no means a chamber orchestra, but their (slightly) reduced forces never overwhelmed Haydn’s textures, allowing the music plenty of room to breathe.
For Mendelssohn’s sparkling G minor Piano Concerto, Søndergård found an equally vigorous collaborator in Dejan Lazić. Lazić has an extraordinary ability to read the mood of a piece, something he demonstrated in a flicker from the upwardly thrusting first theme to the reflective subtlety of the second, and his fingers flitted dazzlingly over the quicksilver melody of the finale. The orchestra were equal partners though: in particular, the middle strings sounded sumptuous in the gorgeous main melody of the slow movement.
Brahms’ Fourth Symphony is a work where structure is all important, and Søndergård directed the piece with satisfying strength. His tempi were on the fast side, but this helped to generate a sense of energy, particularly for the scherzo which managed to avoid sounding heavy. He conducted with determination and resolve, so that the moments of the greatest musical argument, such as the coda of the first movement, moved with powerful conviction. The orchestra matched him with particularly strong string sound, such as the swirling, angry violins in the fourth variation of the finale, or the glorious pulsation of the Andante’s second theme. The finale was a masterclass in the control of tension, from its urgent opening, through that extraordinary flute solo, to a coda that had an unarguable air of finality about it.