Erina Yashima conducts a brilliant debut with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra in Glasgow

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Dvořák, Thea Musgrave, Brahms: Royal Scottish National Orchestra / Erina Yashima (conductor). New Auditorium, Glasgow Concert Hall, 4.5.2022. (GT)

Erina Yashima (c) Todd Rosenberg

Dvořák Legends Nos. 1, 3, 4 and 8, Op.59, B.117
Thea MusgraveLoch Ness – A postcard from Scotland (Scottish premiere)
Brahms – Serenade No.2 in A major, Op.16

This matinee concert was the last in this Spring/Summer concert series by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra – among the avenues explored in these concerts have been unfamiliar orchestral works by less well-known composers. Thankfully this trend will continue next year with interesting repertoire including a symphony by Franz Schmidt, and a concert devoted to African American Voices including pieces by Walker, Still, and Dawson. Another welcome recent development has been the focus on young women conductors.

The German-born conductor Erina Yashima has been studying with Riccardo Muti since 2015 and this season is working under Yannick Nézet-Séguin at the Philadelphia Orchestra and next year will be working at the Komische Oper in Berlin. She began conducting at the age of 14 years old and her first teacher was Bernd Goetzke at Hannover, followed by further tuition with Scott Sandmeier at Freiburg, and at Vienna with Mark Stringer, and finally studied at the Hanns Eisler School in Berlin with Christian Ehwald and Hans-Dieter Baum. She has worked in both opera and with diverse orchestral groups all over the world with some of the finest musicians. This fascinating concert offered a fine opportunity to discover Yashima’s talents in both contemporary and romantic works.

Originally composed for piano duet in 1881, Dvořák’s ten Legends quickly found its place in the concert hall with the arrangement for orchestra a year later, the dedicatee Eduard Hanslick wrote of the set having a ‘sense of immediacy’, with ‘its wholesome freshness’. With Yashima’s first gestures at the podium, in the First Legend Allegretto non troppo, the orchestra responded with a bright, energetic opening, leading to a fine idea expressed by Adrian Wilson on the oboe and more colour from Katherine Bryan on the flute added to by ambience from the four double basses. The lively colours continued into the tuneful Third Legend (Allegro giusto) aided by the harmonious triangle played by Simon Lowden and the exchanging of a harmonic phrase in the first and second violins with some quite beautiful string playing. In the Fourth Legend (Molto maestoso) the horns were potent and dynamic in C major, before an idyllic idea from the woodwind – here the conductor showed fine movements with her baton and expression through clear gestures as her left hand conjured all the magic from Dvořák’s score. The clarinet of Timothy Orpen and the trumpets were buoyant before the mood change with a mournful idea heard on solo flute. The tempo changes were excellently handled by Yashima. The final Eighth Legend (Un poco allegretto) was distinguished by beautiful woodwind colours in a rather charming ending in F major.

Thea Musgrave (b.1928) has spent the greater part of her career in the United States and has enjoyed a success particularly with her ten operas, several of which are devoted to themes of strong leading women; Mary, Queen of Scots, The Voice of Ariadne, and Harriet, the Woman called Moses, other successfully staged operas include her Simón Bolivar, and A Christmas Carol. Musgrave has written concertos for clarinet, horn, and viola which explore innovative orchestral textures and spatial areas, in which horns are heard around the concert hall, or the soloist moves through the orchestra creating unusual sound values These innovations have been used in her pieces Turbulent Landscapes, The Seasons, Journey through a Japanese Landscape and her Greek Legends Helios, Orfeo, Narcissus and Voices from the Ancient World.

This Loch Ness piece – almost a concerto for the tuba and orchestra – was premiered at the BBC Proms in 2012, and here received its Scottish premiere. Musgrave’s handling of orchestral colours was distinguished from the start as her piece opened on the gran casa evoking dark colours across the orchestra with a rather Wagnerian harmony of E flat on the tuba (expressing Nessie, the monster) marvellously played throughout by John Whitener. The music fashioned was of a watery picture of waves flowing in the high strings and the chortling woodwind rising to a calmer and sunny mode, with the solo tuba playing against shimmering strings and a mysterious atmosphere created by the percussion and the three flutes. Then there was the slow descent of Nessie under the waters to a looming stillness in the loch. This was a magical performance of a piece worthy of a performance in the Royal Concert Hall itself – but here every instrument could be heard in the pristine acoustics of the New Auditorium. This performance was supported by the John Ellerman Foundation and the Ambache Charitable Trust.

The opening of Brahms’s Serenade was bright and optimistic with a distinct bucolic mood – one had the feeling of joining the composer on his bright summer’s day stroll – the mood was idyllic and distinguished by outstanding intonation from David Hubbard on the bassoon. Initially Yashima produced a beautiful sentient harmony, then in the Scherzo the sparkling woodwind were bursting with energy, whilst in the Adagio the mood was darkly hued from the double basses, yet brightness arrived from Bryan’s flute in a transition not perfectly fashioned in its reprise – it seems that Brahms here was still mastering orchestration – nevertheless there was nice interplay between the flute and oboe. In the Quasi menuetto, the mood was peaceful and cheerful as if Brahms on his country walk had a breath of wind behind him. This was gentle on the ear, with some lovely woodwind playing, while in the upbeat and dynamic Rondo, Yashima brought a brash burst of sound from the woodwind – here the conductor was good to watch, constantly gesturing and shaping the contours of Brahms’s romanticism, ensuring the mood was brisk and lively before the stirring close.

This was a terrific concert, and hopefully we will see this fine young conductor here again in the not too distant future.

Gregor Tassie

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