The Royal Scottish National Orchestra (RSNO) presented a varied programme of classical music at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall on Saturday, November 11, 2023. The concert featured works by Rachmaninov, Clyne and Dvorak, and was conducted by Anja Bihlmaier, with Nelson Goerner as the piano soloist.
Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2: a subdued interpretation
The highlight of the evening was supposed to be Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2, one of the most popular and beloved pieces in the repertoire. However, the performance by Goerner and Bihlmaier did not live up to the expectations of some critics and audience members, who found it lacking in passion, coherence and intensity.
Goerner’s approach was rather restrained and reflective, focusing on the lyrical and delicate aspects of the music, but sometimes losing sight of the overall structure and momentum. His phrasing was often unpredictable and idiosyncratic, which made it difficult for Bihlmaier and the orchestra to follow him and create a unified sound. The result was a sense of disconnect and discomfort between the soloist and the ensemble, especially in the first and third movements.
The second movement, however, was more successful, as Goerner and the orchestra engaged in a more harmonious dialogue, highlighting the romantic and expressive qualities of the music. The woodwind section, in particular, played with warmth and character, complementing Goerner’s elegant and nuanced touch.
Clyne’s Stride: a playful homage to Beethoven
The concert opened with a work for strings only, Stride, by the British composer Anna Clyne. The piece was inspired by Beethoven’s Pathétique Sonata, and used fragments of its themes and motifs to create a playful and dynamic contrast between the classical and the contemporary.
The piece started with a slow and solemn introduction, reminiscent of the opening of the sonata, but soon shifted to a faster and more rhythmic section, where the strings played with pizzicato, col legno and glissando effects. The music alternated between moments of tension and release, dissonance and consonance, and lightness and darkness, creating a sense of surprise and humour.
Bihlmaier led the orchestra with energy and enthusiasm, and the string players responded with agility and precision. The piece was well received by the audience, who appreciated its originality and inventiveness.
Dvorak’s Symphony No. 8: a joyful celebration of nature
The final piece of the programme was Dvorak’s Symphony No. 8, a cheerful and optimistic work that reflects the composer’s love of nature and folk music. The symphony is full of melodies and colours, evoking the landscapes and moods of Bohemia.
Bihlmaier and the orchestra gave a lively and vibrant performance, capturing the essence and spirit of the music. The first movement was bright and exuberant, with a strong sense of direction and contrast. The second movement was lyrical and tender, with beautiful solos by the flute, oboe and clarinet. The third movement was a lively scherzo, with a rustic and folk-like character. The finale was a brilliant and triumphant conclusion, with a majestic and festive theme that brought the symphony to a glorious end.
The orchestra played with enthusiasm and confidence, and Bihlmaier showed a clear and effective command of the score. The audience responded with a warm and prolonged applause, and the orchestra rewarded them with an encore: a lively and spirited polka by Dvorak.