Lammermuir: Royal Northern Sinfonia / Sousa

St Mary’s Parish Church, Haddington

It is possibly a little gauche to mention it, but one person who has emerged well from the grim tale of the fall of Sir John Eliot Gardiner is the Principal Conductor of the Royal Northern Sinfonia, Dinis Sousa.

As Gardiner’s Associate Conductor of the Monteverdi Choir and Orchestras, he stepped up to the podium for the concert performances of Les Troyens after the rehearsal incident and the final show of the project’s European tour, at the Royal Albert Hall in the Proms season, was universally acclaimed. The RNS made an astute appointment of the Portuguese conductor two years ago and he is now a highly appreciated asset.

So too is the orchestra’s leader, Maria Wloszczowska, who partnered pianist Jeremy Denk in a Charles Ives sonata at Lammermuir two years ago and went on to play Bach with him in New York. She was the soloist in Beethoven’s Violin Concerto here before taking her place in the orchestra for Schumann’s last symphony.

There is a glorious fluidity to her playing and although she had the music in front of her, she rarely consulted it. In terms of performance, soloist and conductor were very much on the same page from the opening bars, which can sometimes seem purposely tentative but here took a hint from the timpanist’s march rhythm. Come the first movement’s closing cadenza, the timpani were crucial again, Wloszczowska and Sousa using the dialogue in the composer’s later piano version of the score.

While this was not always pacey Beethoven, it was neither leisurely nor sedate, and there was a compelling deliberateness about the slow movement, particularly in the relationship between soloist and orchestra, underlined in the way the music skipped into the finale. Sousa and Wlosczcowska were in lock-step in dynamics as well as tempo throughout.

The conductor’s account of Schumann’s Symphony No 3, the “Rhenish”, was very much as a showcase for his orchestra, the horns resonating in the fine acoustic of St Mary’s in the first movement, a beautiful clarity of sound in the wind soloists in the third, and the trombones at the back leading the chorale in the fourth.

There was an architectural grandeur here that is not always present in chamber orchestra accounts of the work, and the waltzing Scherzo sounded almost Viennese. Given the ultimately fatal fall-out of the composer’s recent Dusseldorf appointment, where the work premiered, this holiday jaunt down the Rhine with Clara has rarely sounded as sunny as it did here.

Keith Bruce