Overture – The Hebrides (Fingal’s Cave), Op.26
Violin Concerto in E minor, Op.64
Symphony No.6 in D, Op.60
Vadim Gluzman (violin)
Royal Scottish National Orchestra
Reviewed by: Douglas Cooksey
Reviewed: 11 November, 2011
Venue: Usher Hall, Edinburgh
How wonderful once more to see a packed Usher Hall. Whether it was the combination of two of Mendelssohn’s most-popular works with one of Dvořák’s finest if less frequently played symphonies or the U26 effect (U26 is an RSNO scheme by which anyone under that age can buy a ticket for £5), this was a winning formula. The sense of occasion which a full house engenders was palpable.
The Hebrides provided the least satisfactory music-making. Tomas Hanus is a Czech conductor in his 40s who studied in Brno and has made his name primarily in opera. Although the Overture had its moments, notably a magical account of the clarinet solo at the close, for the most part Hanus’s lugubrious base tempo – which alternated with contrasting bursts of frenetic activity (marked by some particularly raucous trumpets; at climaxes The Flying Dutchman came to mind) – gave little sense of the music’s natural rise and fall.
Complete and welcome contrast came with an outstandingly stylish account of the Violin Concerto. Vadim Gluzman was the winner of the Henryk Szeryng Award in 1994 and his playing reminds of Szeryng, at once warm, elegant and spontaneous. Hanus’s experience with singers served him well, the RSNO providing an accompaniment that fitted Gluzman like a glove. Highlights included an unusually secure account of the first-movement cadenza and a heartfelt but unsentimental Andante; the finale glittered with gossamer lightness. Gluzman plays Leopold Auer’s 1690 Stradivarius, on loan from the Stradivari Society of Chicago, and in the now almost-obligatory Bach encore one has seldom heard such beautiful violin sound.
The performance of Dvořák’s Sixth Symphony succeeded in being both magnificent and infuriating. In its unpredictability it was never boring. Hanus’s lingeringly affectionate reading used the widest range of speeds. This paid fewest dividends in the first movement (no exposition repeat) where he might almost have been conducting a symphonic poem rather than a symphony, so exaggerated was his response to every passing incident; evident affection succeeded by moments of acute over-emphasis; perversely, given the lack of symphonic momentum, the expansive easing into the development was wonderfully atmospheric. Far more successful were the middle movements, the four woodwind principals covering themselves in glory in the most tender of introductions to the slow movement and with the strings then producing some radiant pianissimos. The ‘Furiant’-scherzo had a fine spring and the enormously laid-back trio somehow worked and tugged at the heartstrings. Despite some occasionally ragged brass playing, the finale was delivered with such unfettered commitment that one entirely forgave its occasional banalities and resoundingly grandiloquent conclusion.