Glasgow Royal Concert Hall
Some things are worth waiting for, in this case Detlev Glanert’s intensely beautiful Violin Concerto No 2. It was originally earmarked for UK premiere by its dedicatee, American-Japanese violinist Midori, as part of the RSNO’s 2020/21 season. When Covid struck the planned world premiere in Tokyo was cancelled, making a revised Scotland performance date last January, albeit streamed, the world premiere. That, in turn, proved unworkable.
Finally it has happened, and last weekend’s Edinburgh and Glasgow performances gave us the very first airing of a work Glanert has subtitled “To the Immortal Beloved”, revealing its inspirational source as Beethoven’s famously passionate declaration of love, a letter written but never posted to a mystery woman, thought to be Josephine Brunsvik, in 1812.
Glanert takes three extracts from that letter as the emotional springboard for each of his three uninterrupted movements. In this performance, conducted by RSNO music director Thomas Søndergård, the key cadenzas appeared to have structural significance as apogees of the integral sections. Midori certainly treated them as such, the potency, and at times vehemence, of her playing symbolising emphatically their referential import.
But it was the journey to each of these that offered the true substance, an opening characterised by fitful gestures and antagonistic timpani instilling a dimension of unease that operates variously within the entire work, countered by a calming stream of lyrical consciousness that first materialises in the soloist’s initial appearance.
Through the initial soul-searching turbulence, the ocean of calm that presents a near-idyllic respite at its heart, that magical moment where Glanert wraps the quietest of pianissimos by the soloist in a shroud of scintillating percussion, and in a home straight that reasserts the concerto’s underlying Romanticism, Midori and the orchestra performed with equal measures of heightened sensitivity and rubescent heat.
It was, of course, just one work in an artful programme aligned to the current COP26 conference in Glasgow. Besides the Glanert – justified by Midori’s personal role as a United Nations Peace Ambassador – Søndergård conducted insightful performances of Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara’s electroacoustic menagerie Swans Migrating – the final short movement from his so-called Concerto for Birds, Cantus Arcticus – and Dvorak’s Symphony No 9 From the New World.
The Rautavaara, combining a crescendoing swarm of taped birdsong with the RSNO’s expressive live performance, was the perfect mood-setter for the Glanert. As for the Dvorak, it was revelatory in the way Søndergård found new points to consider despite the symphony’s well-worn familiarity. It was as if he had taken fine sandpaper to its rougher edges, revealing as a result sensitivities in the scoring that are too often ridden roughshod over.
That, and Søndergård’s instinctive ebbing and flowing of the tempi, guaranteed a symphonic experience that, to coin a topical phrase in Glasgow at the moment, eschewed “blah-blah-blah” in favour of fresh and productive outcomes.
Available to view online until 31 January, purchasable at www.rsno.org.uk