RSNO Opens New Edinburgh Concert Hall with Mahler Barnstormer

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Mahler, Symphony No. 2 “Resurrection”: Valentina Farcas (soprano), Sarah Connolly (mezzo), RSNO Chorus, Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Peter Oundjian (conductor), Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 2.10.2015 (SRT)

Mahler, Symphony No. 2 “Resurrection”

2015-16 is a big year for the RSNO. They celebrate their 125th anniversary and, more immediately, they move into their new home, a purpose-built hall right in the centre of Glasgow. In Krishna Thiagarajan they’ve also got a new Chief Executive, and he writes in the programme that part of the reason they chose Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony as their season opener was because “its themes of new life refect what is an enormously important time for the orchestra.” Well, maybe; but undeniably it’s also a rollicking good barnstormer to bring the whole RSNO family together and open the season with a punch.

I’m told that the new RSNO Hall is a brilliant rehearsal space – a huge improvement on the old Henry Wood Hall – with excellent acoustics. This was the orchestra’s first concert after rehearsing there, and there was definitely something about their sound that was a little bit special, most especially from the strings. Their attack at the jagged opening of the first movement was almost frighteningly aggressive, with a fantastically (unusually?) rich sound to the cellos and basses, throbbing noticeably even through the bright, sunny violins in the consolatory second theme. Even finer was the tone of the Ländler, with a beautifully smooth bloom on the sound (very gemütlich!), and a cello line that sounded like molten gold. On top of this, the winds sang and the brass glowed, producing a sound for Mahler that was, frankly, better than I’d had any right to expect.

Peter Oundjian, too, was on his best form, controlling the great span of the funeral march with masterly skill, the devastating series of discords forming a hair-raising climax, and I liked his willingness to embrace dynamic extremes, going from fortissimo to pianissimo in a (very exciting) heartbeat. The Scherzo was fiendish and sinuous, and the Urlicht unfolded with blissful stillness.

The finale wasn’t quite on the level as the rest, though. Oundjian was doing all the right things, but I wanted him to do them more more power in the great trombone/tuba chorale, more time spent on that vast drumroll, which should sound as though its going to go on for ever and the extremes that I found so exciting in the earlier movements were missing. The sound of the RSNO Chorus, too, was rather top-heavy, without enough bass to ground the sound. Still, what they lacked in depth they made up for in enthusiasm and heft in the final whoosh, which raised the roof in the way that this symphony always should, and Sarah Connolly and Valentina Farcas provided predictably classy solo contributions.

Simon Thompson

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