Accessible, popular classics with a romantic theme from the RSNO in Edinburgh

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Bizet, Khachaturian, Grieg, Tchaikovsky, Mahler, Ravel: Florian Mitrea (piano), Royal Scottish National Orchestra / Michael Seal (conductor). Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 14.2.2020 (SRT)

Bizet – Movements from Carmen Suites Nos. 1 & 2
KhachaturianAdagio of Spartacus and Phrygia from Spartacus
Grieg – Piano Concerto
TchaikovskyRomeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture
MahlerAdagietto from Symphony No.5
Ravel – Boléro

They don’t market it as the ‘Valentine’s Concert’ anymore, but the RSNO’s middle concert of February always has the same format: a series of accessible, popular classics with a romantic theme. It is an evening that would make a great date night and, indeed, tonight’s concert did seem a little busier than normal. I spotted quite a few couples I hadn’t seen before, mostly on the young side, and they won’t have come away disappointed.

That is mostly thanks to the orchestra, who took every piece seriously and played it with a lovely range of colours. Khachaturian’s famous Adagio fluttered delightfully through the winds as it built up to its full string apotheosis, and Tchaikovsky’s love theme for Romeo and Juliet sat next to some clipped, exciting battle music that carried architectural breadth. I particularly enjoyed the way the tune of Bizet’s Habañera and Danse Bohème bounced around the orchestra, while the opera’s interludes carried a convincing bounce.

Conductor Michael Seal was not the most loquacious presence on the podium – a pity for a concert aimed at newbies – but his musical direction was solid throughout, culminating in a cracking Boléro that was excellently controlled, and whose momentum gathered at just the right pace, even if the final bars felt a little rushed. He took Mahler’s Adagietto at a pleasingly fluid pace, too, his refusal to linger allowing the string sound to shimmer rather than subsiding into gloop.

I was particularly interested to hear Florian Mitrea’s take on the Grieg Concerto, because I had come across him before at the Fringe’s showcase for up-and-coming musicians (review click here). I am sure it is no more than luck, but he is the only musician from the Royal Overseas League series that I have seen again and sharing a stage with the RSNO is a sign that he is moving on to greater things. Technically he is very accomplished: the fistfuls of notes hold few terrors for him, despite a few clumsy moments in the cadenza, and he was at his best while introducing solo themes, such as the Halling tune of the finale. However, he needs to work on his communication, because when he got his head down he rarely took any notice of either the podium or orchestra. It wasn’t just that he seemed to disagree with the conductor over tempi, but his touch on the keyboard could spill over into a headstrong manner that didn’t do the music any favours.

Still, the orchestral sound was beautiful, with soft-focused strings in the slow movement and a chilly shimmer in the finale, and that alone was worth hearing. If this concert does build some future audiences for the RSNO, then it is to their credit that they do it in such a classy way.

Simon Thompson

For more about the RSNO click here.

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