Scottish Orchestra Creates  Authentic Bruckner Sound

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Mozart, Elgar, Bruckner: Aleksei Kiseliov (cello), Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Peter Oundjian (conductor), Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 10.10.14 (SRT)

Mozart: Overture to The Marriage of Figaro
Elgar: Cello Concerto
Bruckner: Symphony No. 7

This summer I took my first visit to the Salzburg Festival, where I was lucky enough to hear the Vienna Philharmonic playing two Bruckner symphonies.  It is only a slight exaggeration to say that the sound made by the RSNO tonight could have held its own in that exalted company, so high was the quality of the performance.  The bedrock of it all was a really sensational sound from the strings, the most important part of any Bruckner orchestra.  Exactly how much time and effort they dedicated to working on this I can’t say, but its rounded, velvety tone sounded as though tailor-made for Bruckner, and the rest of the orchestra built itself around that.  The cellos, in particular, felt their way through the wide arc of the opening theme in a manner that was at once exploratory and confident, and, later, when the violins took up that great theme they seemed to surge with expressive colour in a way that left me really rather amazed!  The violas, too, brought just the right level of shade to the opening of the Adagio, the dark hue of the Wagner tubas adding majesty to the picture.  The rest of the brass seemed to ring with clarity, especially during the chorale-like passage in the middle of that movement, and the winds added their flecks of colour with care and precision.

Oundjian, too, built Bruckner’s musical paragraphs very impressively, showing the right awareness of where to build the tension and where to release it.  He also shaded each of the key themes very carefully, reflecting hard work and a good deal of thought about how this work should sound.  In fact, the whole experience left me not only very impressed but also rather surprised: who would have thought that Bruckner would find such a natural home among them?  They have an impressive history in Bruckner, but they haven’t done a Bruckner symphony since 2009.  Let’s have some more!

It was also the orchestra that impressed me most about Elgar’s Cello Concerto, especially in the vigour with which they attacked the march of the finale.  For the second time in a fortnight, the soloist was drawn from the ranks of the orchestra, and the musicians respond with predictable warmth when that happens.  I enjoyed the rather dark colour that Aleksei Kiseliov brought to the solo line, distinctive and moody with lots of ardent phrasing.  If tuning and accuracy occasionally suffered then that was forgivable.  For me, though, sometimes that distinctiveness tended to become too much of a blend.  In the slow movement, for example, the cellos’ lyrical arc was in danger of being subsumed into the orchestral fabric, and there was a similar danger in the first movement (though there it’s one faced by every cellist).  It remained an impressive turn, though, and I think it’s a great idea to feature the orchestral principals in this way.  As for the Figaro overture: well, what can possibly go wrong with that?

Simon Thompson

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