Tag Archives: Sondergard


RSNO Centre, Glasgow

Exactly twenty-four hours after the BBC SSO’s carelessly-produced live-streamed concert from the City Halls on Thursday, the RSNO put our national broadcasting corporation in the shade with the latest release in its Friday night pre-recorded digital season, imaginatively filmed, supremely presented and with first-rate sound quality.

Sharp eyes may have spotted a curious irony in the final credits. The RSNO’s producer was listed as Andrew Trinick, a figure more familiar to many as senior producer with the BBC SSO. 

This RSNO package looked splendid in the orchestra’s clean, accommodating auditorium. A double dose of Beethoven proved a powerful musical pairing. More critically, preceding the First Symphony and Violin Concerto with brief introductory thoughts from members of the orchestra, conductor Thomas Sondergard and soloist Midori, contributed a welcoming mix of warmth, sophistication, anticipation and excitement that we’re all missing in the absence of live concert attendance. 

In that context Midori was able to share some personal insight on Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, which she recently recorded with the Festival Strings Lucerne on Warner Classics. Better still, in the first of two appearances she is making in the RSNO’s 10-concert series, was a performance that cut a telling deal between cerebral detachment and instinctive poeticism.

If that gave a certain stoicism to the exposition of the key themes, it was out of such earnest intellectual pronouncements that so many luminous deliberations took flight. The sheer inward intensity of Midori’s thoughts – as in the searing potency of her opening utterances, or the incisive precision of the cadenza – was also their emotional catalyst. A work as substantial as this requires such helpful moments of relief.

In Thomas Sondergard she had a solid and empathetic collaborator. From the opening metronomic timpani motif – clear as a bell on period timps – to the throwaway frivolity of the final bars, his handling of the orchestra was as punchy as it was precise. A lengthy concerto never once outstayed its welcome.

To the same ends, the foregoing First Symphony went like the clappers and seemed over in a flash, in particular the second movement which adhered, rightly, as much to the “con moto” in its title as the “Andante cantabile”. An alert RSNO responded with all-round virtuosity, feisty strings and piquant wind and brass breathing fire into the Haydnesque outer movements, bombastic outbursts discharging lightning strikes into the hurtling Menuetto.

And all done in the best possible taste. Whoever said we’d be fed up with Beethoven by this point in his 250th anniversary year? 
Ken Walton


RSNO Centre, Glasgow

Although the launch of the RSNO’s digital season included a number of references to the elements that have been salvaged from the live programme for 2020/21 unveiled shortly before lockdown, in truth Scotland’s national orchestra had pretty much gone back to the drawing board to rethink what music was appropriate and achievable under the radically altered circumstances.

This season-opener, while meaty enough for that designation, was very different from the intended start to the season, but if the huge forces required for Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony were beyond the current regime, his Third was heroic enough an undertaking for a socially-distanced orchestra.

This Eroica took a while to settle into its stride, the ensemble sound a little insipid at the start, and the mix of natural trumpets with modern instruments elsewhere in the sections perhaps a slightly odd decision. Some of that unevenness returned in the Finale, but the second movement Marcia funebre was distinguished by superb string playing, perhaps actually helped by the hyper-attuned listening that players have identified as a consequence of sitting metres apart.

While all of Beethoven’s symphonies are now firmly in the repertoire of smaller orchestras, there was a sense of compromise in this performance which, under the circumstances, it is perhaps even churlish to mention. However, it was assuredly not audible earlier in the programme, which began with Haydn’s ‘The Bear’, his 82nd symphony and as sumptuous as his orchestral works come. This is multi-layered Haydn, with some of the largest forces he wrote for, and with Michael Bawtree, hot foot from an SCO gig, on harpsichord. The work is all about pacing and rhythms and Sondergard had great fun with the tempi, especially in the Allegretto Second Movement. There was very crisp chamber-orchestra playing across the board too.

The cleverest element in this swiftly-assembled programme was in following the Haydn with the Violin Concerto in A by Joseph Bologne, Chevalier de Saint-George. The French/Senegalese virtuoso violinist and composer was the conductor who commissioned and conducted Haydn’s Paris symphonies, including the first performance of No.82 in 1787. His own concerto, of ten years earlier, is not in the same class as far as the score for the orchestra is concerned, but, as you might expect, has some very fine, bold writing for the soloist. The soloist here was leader Maya Iwabuchi, who had also prepared the performing edition, in partnership with RSNO librarian Richard Payne, in short order. As an orchestral contribution to Black History Month it surely deserves credit beyond this fine performance.

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Keith Bruce