RSNO / Kopatchinskaja

Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

Patricia Kopatchinskaja’s mesmerising performance of Stravinsky’s pyrotechnic Violin Concerto in D with the RSNO last weekend will surely go down as one of the musical highlights of the year. The Moldovan-born violinist is an out-and-out entertainer who couples effortless technical wizardry with the red-hot stage charisma of a rock star. 

Stravinsky’s Concerto, a gauche and febrile display of explosive neoclassicism, requires a stage entrance to match, and Kopatchinskaja’s was the whole package. Barefooted, dressed in an exotic creation, her first chord struck an unquestioning authority from which conductor Thomas Søndergård and the orchestra took a firm lead.

Even when she wasn’t playing, Kopatchinskaja’s physical presence was eye-catching and centre stage, bobbing and jiving to Stravinsky’s edgy rhythms. It was a performance that feverishly illuminated the music’s freneticism, one minute grotesque and anarchic, the next darting and artful, at times even reflective and sensual. The encore – an imagined cadenza for the Stravinsky –  ended as a virtuoso duel between Kopatchinskaja and RSNO leader Sharon Roffman.

With such a tour de force completing the opening half, it was easy to forget that the evening had opened with the world premiere of Carlijn Metselaar’s Into The Living Mountain, written by the Edinburgh-based composer as winner of the RSNO 2019-20 Composer’s Hub Scheme. Based on Nan Shepherd’s eponymous book about her experiences climbing in the Cairngorms, Metselaar captures the landscape’s shifting moods – its mysteries, its beauty, its dangers and austerity – within a well-crafted, free-flowing score.

Søndergård, in a neatly-textured reading, also drew on the music’s slightly archaic charm, a nod to early 20th century modernism in the rawness of its big themes, some of which could so easily attach themselves to a Hitchcock film.  

The fullest forces were reserved for the concert’s second half and the all-consuming passion of Rachmaninov’s Symphony No 2. If Søndergård chose to conduct this without a baton purposely to delicately handcraft it, he made his point. There was a sensuousness throughout, spaciously affirmative in the opening movement, joyous and radiant in the second, breathtakingly lyrical in the Adagio, and brilliantly conclusive in the finale. 

Ken Walton