Finnish conductor Eva Ollikainen directs a gorgeous evening of music-making in Glasgow

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Ravel, Tchaikovsky: Javier Perianes (pianist), RSNO Junior Chorus, Royal Scottish National Orchestra / Eva Ollikainen (conductor). Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow, 4.12.2021. (GT)

Eva Ollikainen

RavelUne barque sur l’ocean; Piano Concerto in G major

Tchaikovsky – Selection from The Nutcracker, Op.71

I cannot recall a case in which both soloist and conductor cancelled for one concert, however we are living in challenging times, and nothing can prepare us for what may be awaiting us in coming months. One would hope that the Spring season of concerts which follow in February will not be afflicted by the global pandemic, nor by the complexities of the post-Brexit world. Following her cancellation last week, it was unexpected to see the Finnish conductor Eva Ollikainen so quickly appearing here after the Royal Scottish National Orchestra’s Principal Guest Conductor Elim Chan cancelled, but it is a (good) sign of the times that more young women are getting conducting engagements across the world. Ollikainen is the Chief Conductor of the Iceland Symphony Orchestra and someone who is rapidly developing a major international career.

The orchestrated third movement from Ravel’s 1905 Miroirs is perhaps the most splendid of the original five-movement piano work and represents a marvellous example of early impressionism. The main idea in the first bars was delightfully expressed by Adrian Wilson on the oboe while the phrase on the flutes offered flowing colours and harmonies – not without a hint of mystery – here the conductor was energetic in both her facial and hand movements in coaxing from the musicians the exact phrasing. The gentle flow and drop in sound and a muted trumpet solo highlighted the element of mystery, as the violins aided by fine play from the bass clarinet presented shimmering colours heard on resplendent strings before slowing dying away.

That the orchestra have been able to engage at late notice such an outstanding pianist as Javier Perianes is a tribute to the sterling work of the management team in keeping to the set programme. The Spanish pianist has a formidable reputation having worked with orchestras and festivals worldwide and has made some fine recordings in recent years. Another opportunity in this concert was a comparison with Ravel’s Concerto for the Left Hand – heard here last month – with the Piano Concerto in G Major. Following the brief opening bars of the Allegramente, Janet Richardson on the piccolo flute introduced a cheery tune, followed mellifluously by the trumpet and trombone, and especially the fine intonation from Henry Clay on the cor anglais, and then by a beautiful entry on the piano with an enticingly graceful idea that was ably assisted by a jazzy phrase on the brass. There was delightful playing from the bassoon of David Hubbard heard against alarmingly loud shrieks from the brass. The mood was now transformed by Perianes introducing a cadenza opening up a fairy-tale world delicately augmented by the harp of Pippa Tunnell. In the Adagio, the flute intoned a heartfelt idea, picked up by Adrian Wilson on the oboe and Timothy Orpen on clarinet, yet quickly the aura rose expectantly in a passage of great beauty from the cor anglais. The final movement, Presto was exhilarating, with boisterous ideas on the clarinet and outrageous slides on the trombone by Dávur Juul Magnussen, and increasingly heightened by racing chords on the piano, and a build in excitement leading to the splendid climax by piano and orchestra. It is clear that with the delicious music-making throughout the orchestra and the brilliance of the keyboard demonstrate why this is one of the most popular of twentieth-century piano concertos. As an encore the Spanish pianist played a multicolour piece by Manuel de Falla.

In this selection from The Nutcracker ballet, we heard a delightfully vibrant series of extracts in which the orchestra’s principal musicians provided us with a masterly exhibition of their world-class virtuosity. In the opening bars of the Miniature overture, Helen Brew on the flute was delightfully mellifluous in anticipation of the March of the Toy Soldiers, while the trumpet chords blasted excitingly harmoniously in a glorious fanfare. In the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy, the magical harmonies of the celeste played by Lynda Cochrane were wonderfully accompanied by Duncan Swindells’s bass clarinet, and Orpen’s clarinet, leading into the many-hued music-making of the Divertissements in a voyage across the globe beginning with the exotic Spanish Dance heard on the solo trumpet of Christopher Hart;  the orientalism of the Arabian Dance by the clarinets and Hubbard’s bassoon; further east with the Chinese Dance, again by Brew on the flute accompanied by the cellos; and the Slavically nuanced Trepak, by the strings, oboe and clarinet. A particular highlight was the splendid Pas de Deux, with the two harps, accompanied by cellos bringing out all the magic of this delightful orchestral masterpiece. Another highlight was the final Waltz of the Snowflakes, notably enhanced by the flute and the wonderful children’s chorus bringing a magical touch to the evening.

Throughout the Finnish conductor skilfully managed the rapidly shifts of tempo and perfectly created the mood of each extract with superb orchestral colours. Although, their singing came at the end of this festive orchestral masterwork, special mention should be made of the RSNO Junior Chorus Director Patrick Barrett in preparing his young singers for this concert. In this the last of the Autumn/Winter series of concerts before the orchestra move into their series of Christmas concerts, one looks with anticipation to the Spring/Summer concert season here in Glasgow which begins in February.

Gregor Tassie

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