Glasgow Royal Concert Hall
For all that it looked unusual on paper, the RSNO’s digital season offering this week makes profound sense as a programme in performance. As precursors to Schumann’s Second Symphony, Mahler’s Blumine and Brahms’s orchestral arrangements of six Schubert songs also showed refreshingly original thinking on the part of German/Ghanaian conductor Kevin John Edusei.
The conductor of the Munich Symphony Orchestra is one of three RSNO debuts onstage, but his appearance has long been expected. When he jumped in to deputise at concerts by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra in 2019 and the BBC SSO at the start of 2020, senior RSNO figures were at Glasgow City Hall for the concerts. As director of the Chineke! Orchestra at the BBC Proms, on tour and on disc, his profile in the UK is already high and an appointment somewhere cannot be far away.
The other two new faces are singers Susanna Hurrell and Felix Kemp, the baritone a late substitute for Marcus Farnsworth. They are placed among the players for the Schubert songs, a somewhat random selection from the catalogues of both their composer and their arranger, with texts by Goethe, Schiller and Sir Walter Scott among them. The latter, Ellen’s second song from The Lady of the Lake, is the highlight for the soprano, with delicious accompaniment from the horns and bassoons, although Hurrell makes a particularly beguiling impression with the earlier Geheimes (A Secret) by Goethe.
Kemp has a very fine voice, with excellent dynamic control across his range. Baritone songs open and close the set, and he clearly relishes the operatic possibilities of Schiller’s Gruppe aus dem Tartarus.
The featured soloist in the opening Mahler is associate principal trumpet Jason Lewis, in a curiosity from the composer’s catalogue that began life as part of a lost score of incidental music for the stage, before being repurposed, and then dropped, as the second movement of Mahler’s First Symphony.
Although not written for a small orchestra – this is Mahler after all – it sounds very compact in Edusei’s hands, the conductor coaxing a very measured sound, with immaculate balance, in his first music with the orchestra. It sets a template, not just for the Schubert/Brahms, but especially for the Schumann. As well as having an Adagio built on a four-note figure as heart-rending as anything in the canon and first movement cadences that could only be Schumann, the Second Symphony requires some very brisk playing indeed, the scampering runs in the strings for the Scherzo prefigured in that opening movement and more lightning finger-work from the violins in the varied pace of the Finale.
With bold tempi and clear communication, Edusei brings a precision-tooled and full-blooded reading of the work from his new friends at the RSNO.
Available via the RSNO website to July 30.