Thrilling Climax to RSNO’s Stravinsky Project

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Bartók, Stravinsky: Leticia Moreno (violin), Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Thomas Søndergård (conductor), Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 6.5.2016. (SRT)

Bartók: Suite from The Miraculous Mandarin

Stravinsky: Violin Concerto; The Rite of Spring

The RSNO’s Stravinsky Project reaches its end and its climax tonight with the composer’s most famous and most influential work. This is more like it!  Not only is The Rite of Spring an easier sell than the symphonies of last week, but even for seasoned concert-goers it retains its ability to thrill. Sometimes only just, though.  Thomas Søndergård played his cards close to his chest for the work’s first section and, impressive as was the individual playing (alluring winds, urgent strings, brightly assertive brass), it took a while for the energy to really kick in.  Of course, it’s important to hold something in reserve when you’re doing The Rite – turn it up to ten at the start and you leave yourself with nowhere to go – but not until the Procession of the Sage did the scalp really start to prickle.  From then on Søndergård seemed to give himself permission to let rip, with thrills aplenty in the Dance of the Earth and the climactic Sacrificial Dance, taken at a dangerously (but exhilaratingly) fast tempo.  It wasn’t constant headlights, however: the opening of Part Two, in particular, was very carefully shaded, with sounds that at times seemed to quiver on the very verge of audibility, making the Glorification of the Chosen One all the more hair-raising when it burst out from behind this subtle front.

The Miraculous Mandarin was cut from the same cloth. Bartók’s world of urban violence swirled with the same sense of dark energy that crackled through Stravinsky’s pagan Russia, and the swirling opening seemed to tighten the tension like a screw, with the various dances acting only as temporary tension releases.  The Mandarin’s climactic chase scene seemed remarkably close to the self-annihilation of The Rite’s ending, and hearing both works on the same programme was a revelation, much more so than when Gergiev and the LSO did the same pairing in last year’s Edinburgh Festival.

As for the Violin Concerto, well, I’ve said before that I don’t have much time for the wiry sound of Stravinsky’s neoclassical world, and for a while I wasn’t sure that Leticia Moreno had either. Her big-boned approach to the music seemed better suited to the big Romantic warhorses than Stravinsky’s austere soundscape, but she produced beautiful tone in the third movement, and even I was impressed by her fireworks in the finale.

Simon Thompson


Leave a Comment