tue 21/05/2024

RSNO, Oundjian, Usher Hall, Edinburgh review - ending on a high in Mahler | reviews, news & interviews

RSNO, Oundjian, Usher Hall, Edinburgh review - ending on a high in Mahler

RSNO, Oundjian, Usher Hall, Edinburgh review - ending on a high in Mahler

A poised performance of the Ninth Symphony brings a fine tenure to a close

Peter Oundjian takes a final bow at the end of Mahler's Ninth SymphonySally Jubb

Marking his departure as the Royal Scottish National Orchestra's Music Director after six years, Peter Oundjian definitely left on a high, conducting a gripping, visceral performance of Mahler’s last completed symphony.

Its beginnings were glassy and clear, matched with a lyrical softness, before the orchestra erupted into powerful, passionate swells. Woodwind were crisp and piercing, cutting through the strings’ density, and con sordino horns were solemn and ominous.

As the first movement progressed, through more pastoral passages with tender horn and clarinet playing, to the more dark and brooding, with strong, defiant strings, Oundjian’s beat was consistently clear, measured and direct, guiding the orchestra with poise and grace. The second movement opened with a bubbling energy, with a raw, rugged sound coming from the violas. From all sections the playing here was zealous, urgent, driven. Oundjian continued his slick conducting as the orchestra gave Mahler’s wry take on a traditional Ländler, an Austrian peasant dance, and a Viennese ballroom waltz. The movement is marked "somewhat clumsy and very coarse," and the orchestra’s playing here was sometimes just a little too polite, falling a shade short of the rambunctious party atmosphere implied in the composer’s instruction. Each section of the orchestra was impeccably tight and together, especially the woodwind, and the movement was rounded off with a cheeky, piquant flute flourish.

Myriad musical moods collided and crashed together, before breaking like waves

The audience was transported into a completely different sound world for the third movement, which Mahler marked "very defiant". This is serious, meaty music and the orchestra - who were, on Friday, a suitably sizeable band - experty teased out every nuance of Mahler’s mighty score. The brass were loud and brash, before the sound scaled down to a trumpet solo, which was exquisitely executed by principal trumpeter Christopher Hart. His tone was light, clear and supported as he played with a soft tenderness. The orchestra’s sound here was bright and brash, although sometimes skated a bit too close to becoming screechy. That said, the boldness and drive with which the RSNO played was quite exhilarating. The movement’s myriad musical moods collided and crashed together, before breaking like waves. Oundjian took the final section at an almighty lick, leading up to a direct, punchy, snappy ending.

Saving the best for last, the finest music making of the night was heard in the fourth movement. The strings produced a colossal curtain of sound, with harmonies constantly shifting, their playing profound, glassy and serene. The kaleidoscopic layers of Mahler’s sound world, and his inspired harmonic metamorphoses were wonderfully illuminated. Oundjian’s stylish conducting here was a joy to watch as he took the orchestra through this stunning sonic territory. It’s as though you can hear it in the music that Mahler knows his time’s coming to an end. The final bars are tranquil and mysterious, a wonderful parting gift for Mahler to leave the world.

Marking the end of what has, over the past six years, been a fruitful and successful musical partnership, this was a fitting way for Peter Oundjian to draw his tenure of Music Director to a close.

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