Contrasting Violin Concertos from Hadelich and RSNO

Haydn, Adès, Beethoven: Augustin Hadelich (Violin), Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Peter Oundjian (Conductor), Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 23.05.2014 (SRT)

Haydn:  Violin Concerto No. 1
Adès: Violin Concerto Concentric Paths
Beethoven:   Symphony No. 7


Having two violin concertos in one programme might look like either lazy programming or a determination to get the maximum value for money out of your soloist.  It just about works, however, when they’re as different as this pair.  Haydn’s is full of rococo grace, with a miniature string orchestra, and Adès’ is rich with angular, experimental lines.  I also really enjoyed the playing of Augustin Hadelich, all grace and poise in the outer movements of the Haydn, but singing out a gorgeous, unbroken line in the slow movement, over carefully graded pizzicati from the orchestra.

Adès’ concerto is an altogether different beast, but more exciting and interesting for that.  Since its premiere in 2005 it has proved unusually popular for a contemporary work (it already has three recordings) but this is the first time the RSNO has played it.  It’s a great showcase for them and for Hadelich as a soloist.  Adès subtitles the work Concentric Paths as an indication of the work’s structural principles, and you get an impression of that right from the off, with the violin’s solo line that opens the work, seeming to reflect back on itself in a manner that is always lyrical, and with the orchestra chugging underneath in a way that reminded me of John Adams.  The finale, similarly, reminded me of a circling flight that was slowly running out of juice, seeming to gyre downwards until its sharp, unexpected ending.  The centrepiece of the concerto, though, is a slow movement that isn’t a chaconne but that bears many of the hallmarks of one in its cyclical structure, with the orchestra becoming transformed every bit as much as the solo line: Adès gets some extraordinary sounds out of the bottom of the orchestra, for example, just as the violin begins to head skywards.  Especially beautifully played by Hadelich is the moment, towards the end of that movement, where the soloist spins out a long line of melody that in its beauty and breadth isn’t all that dissimilar to that Haydn slow movement I was so taken by.  Against this, and against the way it builds in stature, the orchestra can only comment in quiet awe.

Unusually, Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony was given the biggest orchestral contingent of the evening.  It’s so long since I heard this work performed in an old-school, muscular style on a full symphony orchestra, complete with vibrato and all, that I’d all but forgotten how exciting those dactylic rhythms can sound when they’re belted out full throttle.  The three fast movements all revelled in the sheer excitement of the work in a way that I haven’t heard in a long time, and the Allegretto had its own surprises, with string playing that was rich, deep, almost chocolaty in places.  It’s a far cry from the parched, emaciated sound of this movement that I’ve become used to hearing in recent years, and is none the worse for that.  Oundjian was also on exciting form, playing the work for its rhythmic energy and throwing in some personal touches, such as a cheeky pause just as the first movement’s main theme was getting going.  This was a performance that made me remember why I like this symphony.

Simon Thompson

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