♫ Royal Scottish National Orchestra (Usher Hall: 20 Nov.’15)

“Their playing under Jun Markl’s baton was fluent and enjoyable throughout”



Editorial Rating:  5 Stars: Nae Bad

 Have you ever been to a concert hall, be it Royal Albert, Royal Festival, or, in this case, Usher, stared at the organ and pipes behind the choir stalls and wondered “Ooh, I wonder what that sounds like”?  Well, tonight we got the opportunity to do precisely that – twice!

The RSNO put on a night of late romantic music from both the 1850s and 1930s. Their playing under Jun Markl’s baton was fluent and enjoyable throughout,  and organist Thierry Escaich showed what a very fine artist he is on an equally splendid instrument.

Our appetiser was Liszt’s Les Preludes, the third of his thirteen symphonic poems and one of the earliest of its kind.  There has been the usual debate about what the work was a prelude for, including being influenced by Lamartine or his disciple Joseph Autran.  Ultimately Liszt himself appears to have settled the matter in a letter to cousin Eduard Liszt, asserting that Les Préludes represents the prelude to Liszt’s own path of composition. Maybe we shouldn’t attach too much importance to names.

The work itself is for a full orchestra and so warmed us up nicely for the major works to come. Liszt and Chopin are among the world’s greatest ever pianists, and it has always intrigued me how the former is much more skilled at orchestration than the latter.  This was a mature work well played that seemed to tell a story.  The flutes, that I felt held back slightly a couple of weeks ago in Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Overture-Fantasy gave a beautifully clear account of themselves in the opening counter balance with the strings and then throughout. Rich, relaxing horns and warm string tones brought us to a happy conclusion.

We went forward in time some eighty years to hear Poulenc’s Concerto for Organ, Strings and Timpani. Commissioned by Princess Edmond de Polignac  and premiered a full five years later in 1939 by no less than Maurice Durufle on organ, it is a work of contrasts, from shades of gothic horror to interludes of quiet reflection. Organ, strings and timpani interplayed seamlessly in a myriad odyssey of seven movements.  A twenty minute treat, it is one of my favourite works for organ and orchestra and organist Thierry Escaich extracted every nuance from the solo part.

To conclude our evening there followed Liszt contemporary Camille Saint-Saens’s 3rd Symphony, more commonly known as the Organ Symphony, although the organ comes into its own only in the final movement. There is the danger of dismissing the remainder of the symphony as we wait for the great piped beast to come into its own, which is a pity, because the work as a whole is melodious, exciting and eminently listenable to.  From the opening violins, pizzicato cello and woodwind to the resounding brass there are wonderful examples of orchestration to which the RSNO did more than justice, producing a seamless flow of glorious music that after the magnificent coda gave way to sustained applause.

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Reviewer: Charles Stokes (Seen 20 November)

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