Reviewer: William J. Quinn
The RSNO were in fine form under guest conductor Anja Bihlmaier this November 10th, putting visiting piano virtuoso Nelson Goerner straight to work in a full-on first act. The opening appetizer, Stride, a 12-minute riff on Beethoven‘s Piano Sonata No. 8, certainly put both pianist, and the orchestra’s string sections through their paces.
Plucking moments from each original movement, Clyne weaves quite the rollercoaster ride. There’s something of the magician’s patter to Stride, showing the audience each original fragment, before weaving them into shifting adventure. With such express riffing, the piece has an inevitable jazzy feel, one Clyne supercharges by arming the Double Bassists with Beethoven’s octave striding left-hand walks.
The evening’s nominated highlight, Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2 followed, the ever popular, and abundantly romantic piece well within Goerner’s abundant technical skillset. The piece itself needs little if any introduction, the iconic melodies, and luscious orchestrations directed straight towards the heartstrings. The orchestra under Bihlmaier certainly set a gorgeous landscape for Goerner to dance a light fantastic across. This invitation was accepted but with a measure of restraint not usually found in renditions of the concerto.
Doubtless, this measured approach pleased anyone wary of a schmaltzy night at a sold-out Usher Hall, but the payoff was a performance more technical exercise than celebration of lyrical beauty.
Post-intermission the RSNO returned with a wonderful rendition of Dvořák’s Symphony No. 8. For me, this was the highlight of the evening, the orchestra assembled in all its might, and free to play with the Czech composer’s masterpiece. Bihlmaier, spry and sparkly on the podium, led the orchestra through a dynamic, playful performance. Principal flute Katherine Bryan was the unquestionable MVP for the evening, a resident songbird delighting with uncaged melodies.
Rich, thrilling and impassioned, the orchestra finally arrived at a heroic, joyful conclusion, and a rightfully enthusiastic peel of applause. Tuneful, rousing, and resplendent, the RSNO put on quite a show.