What a joy again it was to spend an evening with Peter Oundjian & co. This season’s seminal subscription to the RSNO bares its soul to the world – their love of the classics & modernity blending into a bouquet of some beauty. Clad all in black, the Orchestra took to the the stage with a certain sense of excitement – they knew what was about to happen, I guess. Among them was Creetown’s own John Gracie, who 35 years into a his stint with the RSNO is about to lay aside his world-renowned trumpeteering from painting his incredible sonic tapestries in our ears. Beloved & respected, it was with some emotion that the entire Usher Hall applauded his arrival on the stage for one of his final shining & starry performances.
Tonight’s selection – the midway point of the season – began with new blood, the profoundly pleasant Remiscipate by an undergraduate at the London Royal College of Music, Lillie Harris. Its theme is the destruction of certain Glasgow flats, a moody, psychological & energetic ten minutes that was deeply poetic. An evocative & skillful work, I especially loved the aesthetical movements of the orchestra as they swept through her ten minute composition like waves across a sun=kissed lake. Rumbling explosions, crumbling masonry & plumes of dust all floated into my mind’s eye as Lillie wove her magic. Having learnt many instruments in her childhood, her natural progression led her to composition, & she is clearly a fresh & exciting talent. For such a young dame, she gave Remiscipate a mature sense of suspense, of an unstoppability that could only end in a giant cymbal crash as the flats smashed into concrete. Excellent!
The central pillar of tonight’s performance was Richard Strauss’ ‘Four Last Songs,’ sung wonderfully by Norwegian soprano, Marita Solberg, who took the stage in a cyan dress, her blond locks tussling to her shoulders, & appeared among the sable orchestra like a chink of daylight in a stormblack sky. Four Last Songs has Strauss putting music to four of Herman Hesse’s haiku-like tri-quatrains, & does so exceedingly well. Of them, the superlativian second song & its galloping cha-cha-cha deer – like a railway at full speed. Solberg’s classical European voice was perfect for the task at hand, a perfect conduit for an entry into the Straussian psyche, where the steady philosophical mind of Schiller blends effortlessly with the melodic blossoms of an alpine morning tumbling down from furs. Yes Strauss & the RSNO’s interpretations of his visions provided a sumptuous glance at the glory of god and life. Listening to Solberg’s startling performance felt as if I was watching a Provencal gypsy-woman caught pick-pocketing in a narrow Marseille street, & pleading to her captors for mercy. Heartfelt to the max.
…& so the Ode of Joy, a piece of music which no human being can afford to experience in its full symphonic majesty. Preceeding it of course is the majority of Beethoven’s ninth, which is a little insipid at times, but one gets the feeling he was simply lulling us into a false sense of security. Of its inclusion in the subscription, Peter Oundjian told the Mumble,’its grand choral finale, celebrating the brotherhood of all mankind, is rightly beloved across the world, & the symphony’s compelling musical drama is also a fitting way to celebrate the RSNO’s historic birthday.’ You can tell Peter loves this piece, at times his stick-work was mesmerizing, shamanic even, & the piece was done a MASSIVE justice on the night but all parties concerned.
Beethoven was a riffer extraordinaire, & like the ending of Love Spreads by the Stone Roes he hits us one by one with orchestral layers of that earworming, ever-familiar, ever eternal piece of whimsical romantic musing. The Ode is famous for its choral support, including the return of Solberg, alongside Croatian Renata Pokupic (mezza-soprano) England’s Ben Johnson (tenor) & Germany’s Stephen Loges (bass-baritone). Chorus director Gregory Batsleer, told the Mumble, ‘I think audiences can have more connection with the Chorus if they’re singing without music, & it makes an enormous impact when the Chorus joins the Orchestra – its truly as if Beethoven couldn’t go any further with his music for orchestra & has to add a choir.’ When all are singing the word’s of Schiller’s 1785 poem full blast. there really is a fundamental shaking of the soul, as if the slopes of Olympus were echoing the chauntings of the gods.
Reviewer : Damo Bullen