Contrasting Romeo & Juliet Music from RSNO

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Tchaikovsky, Khachaturian, Prokofiev: Xiayin Wang (piano), Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Peter Oundjian (conductor), Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 6.11.2015 (SRT)

Tchaikovsky: Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture
Khachaturian: Piano Concerto
Prokofiev: Romeo and Juliet (selected movements)

This concert focused on two contrasting Russian interpretations of Romeo and Juliet: Tchaikovsky’s symphonic poem and Prokofiev’s vibrant ballet music.  Tchaikovsky’s Fantasy Overture can sometimes become a presentation of contrasting sections, but what impressed me about Peter Oundjian’s reading was that it had a palpable narrative arc, moving through the moody, weary opening section through to a quietly moving coda, and climaxing on a surging, vibrant take on the love theme, the strings pulsating with romantic (and Romantic) energy.

That sense of narrative was, perhaps, easier to conjure up in Prokofiev’s score, but the orchestral colour made it just as involving.  The music for the young Juliet tripped along delicately, and the love music of the Balcony Scene sounded beautifully rich, more moving even than Juliet’s death scene, with beautiful winds and sensational cellos.  The most memorable moments, however, were those associated with the rivalry between the Montagues and Capulets, be it the ominous mood of the opening quarrel or, best of all, the breathless energy of the music surrounding Tybalt’s and Mercutio’s death; a hair-raising climax during which the whole orchestra upped their game.

Xiayin Wang was last at the RSNO for the Copland and Barber concertos (which she recorded with them for Chandos).  It’s impressive that she seems to go for the less familiar repertoire with them, and the Khachaturian concerto suits her very well.  She has all the technique (and chutzpah) required for the larger-than-life opening, but she achieves it with remarkable stillness and, repeatedly, the thing that struck me most was the sense of poetry to her performance, finding the lyricism under the flamboyance, and achieving some really beautiful lines, for example in the outer sections of the slow movement which really came to life under her hands.

The orchestra, too, seemed to relish the challenge of this piece.  The opening didn’t get carried away with itself but had a sense of propulsion, like something huge moving steadily forwards, a big string sound giving way to beautifully discrete winds for the folk-inspired second theme.  Their tone matched Wang’s for beauty in the slow movement, and their exciting finale was impressively precise.  It was just a shame you could hardly hear the flexatone in the Andante.  They are due to record the work for Chandos, however, and they’ll surely work on that by then.  The results will be worth looking out for.

Simon Thompson


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