RSNO / Yashima

RSNO Centre, Glasgow

Born and trained in Germany and about to relinquish a position as assistant to Yannick Nezet-Seguin in Philadelphia to take up a senior post at the Komische Oper Berlin, conductor Erina Yashima’s first appearance with Scotland’s national orchestra on Wednesday comes in a year of debuts around the globe, from Canada to Korea, as well as across Europe. If her programmes are all as original as this hour or so of music, she’ll quickly be invited back.

Beginning with a symphonic selection of four from Antonin Dvorak’s 10 Legends for Orchestra, and concluding with Brahms’s violin-less Serenade No 2, one of the composer’s symphonic experiments on the road to escaping the shadow on Beethoven with his own four numbered symphonies, the spicy meat in the middle of this concert sandwich (as soloist John Whitener described it) was the Scottish premiere of Thea Musgrave’s Loch Ness: A Postcard from Scotland.

Premiered by the BBC Scottish and Donald Runnicles at the Royal Albert Hall in the 2012 Proms, it is quite astonishing that the SSO ceded the opportunity to debut the piece in Scotland to the RSNO. A nine-minute piece of enormous fun for the full orchestra, Whitener’s tuba is the featured instrument, portraying Nessie, the secretive and much-sought monster of Scotland’s deepest loch.

With bass clarinet, contra-bassoon and some funky slap string basses sharing that register, the tuba emerges from a low burbling score with shimmering cymbals on top. The music brightens to a climax of ringing chords, half a dozen trumpets and trombones to the fore, before diminishing to a rumble once again, the glimpsed gold of Whitener’s instrument when he stood up briefly once again submerged in the sound of the orchestra.

Musgrave’s gem was played as part of the RSNO’s ongoing series of “Scotch Snaps”, works by contemporary composers living in Scotland, and it would be madness if it was not heard more widely.

Dvorak was being championed by Brahms at the time he wrote the Legends, with his hit Slavonic Dances to quickly follow, yet he was already two-thirds of the way through the composition of his catalogue of symphonies – a job the senior composer found so daunting. If his most attractive melodies were still to come, the brilliant ensemble writing is all there, and Yashima made sure to bring out the way the themes in the horns and other winds are answered by the strings in the big fourth Legend in C that formed the centrepiece of the selection. Preceded by Numbers 1 and 3, the set concluded with the F major No 8, which does carry some suggestions of From the New World.

In a similar way, the third movement Adagio of the Brahms Serenade is the precursor of darker symphonic Brahms after an opening two that are more like large scale chamber music, with all the winds having good stuff to play over some demanding repeated figures in the strings.

There’s much more song and dance in the fourth and fifth movements, and they brought an entertaining afternoon performance to an appropriately lively close.

Keith Bruce

Picture of Erina Yashima by Todd Rosenberg