Review: Royal Scottish National Orchestra with Thomas Søndergård and Dejan Lazic

First published in The Herald on 28 October, 2013

Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

This concert kicked off Thomas SøndergÃ¥rd’s second season as the Royal Scottish National Orchestra’s principal guest conductor, and confirmed – once again – that his was an appointment well made. The Dane inspires superb playing from this orchestra. From a glowing, gracious opening of Haydn’s Symphony no 99 to deft accompaniment in Mendelssohn’s First Piano Concerto to a stirring account of Brahms’s Fourth Symphony, I’ve rarely heard the RSNO in better form.

The Haydn was spacious, crisp and refined – stylish classical playing, especially from the strings. SøndergÃ¥rd kept the first movement’s cheeky second subject deadpan and scaled the Adagio as a leisurely song. There’s an operatic quality to his conducting that shone through in passages for unaccompanied winds here: intertwining flutes and clarinets sang like voices in an ensemble aria.

The dazzling Croatian pianist Dejan Lazic attacked Mendelssohn’s concerto with the drama of a Hollywood thriller and the pearly lustre of a Scarlatti sonata. This was fresh, vivid stuff, full of percussive wit and ardent long lines. The orchestra made a brilliant partner, with beautiful hushed textures from the cello section.

After the interval SøndergÃ¥rd’s Brahms was magnificent: not because of any overblown heft, but for its clarity and its brave, unguarded expressiveness. The opening was shy — hardly the bombast of a great romantic symphony, yet the movement grew to an irrepressible emotional outpouring. The Andante was touchingly stoic, the third movement almost giddy in contrast. The broad finale was shot through with moments of starkness, like the chilling trombone chorales. The effect wasn’t sinister or morose, merely honest: Brahmsian jubilation never comes without an undercurrent of dark melancholy.