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RSNO / Chan / Schwizgebel

at Usher Hall

* * * * -

Last minute changes in conductor and soloist, but the concert is still spot on.

Image of RSNO / Chan / Schwizgebel
Photo: Marco Borggreve

What a turn up for the books: both the programmed conductor and the soloist are indisposed due to ill health. This is a shame, as tonight was to have been the 80th birthday concert for Neeme Järvi, who steered the the RSNO into the limelight at the end of 1980s and 1990s. This was largely due to his complete cycles of Shostakovich and Prokfiev symphonies, which are still much lauded. The young Elim Chan, who conducted the orchestra two weeks previously, steps in and to great acclaim.

The programme has been changed, but is none the worse for it. We start with Tchaikovsky’s Fantasty Overture Romeo and Juliet. Shakespeare’s play was a favourite of Tchaikovsky’s, and his emotional expression for the star-crossed lovers is palpable. The three themes—the piety of Friar Laurence; the stormy bad blood between the Montagues and the Capulets; and the famous love theme—are brought to immense climax by Chan and the RSNO.

The piano soloist was to have been Argentinian Ingrid Filter, but her boots are filled by Swiss-Chinese pianist Louis Schwizgebel, who performs Beethoven’s cheery second piano concerto with glee. This is Beethoven as his best: fiery and ultimately joyful. The ensemble is spot on too.

Järvi had chosen Tchaikovsky’s Manfred symphony as the final piece in the programme. However, Chan chooses Rachmaninov’s famous second symphony in E minor instead. First performed in 1908 in St Petersburg and conducted by the composer, it marked two huge steps in Russian symphonic repertoire: Rachmaninov’s return from the disaster of his first Symphony in 1897, and a rewawaking of the tradition of Borodin and Tchaikovsky (with whom Rachmaninov had been a pupil). It oozes deep emotional Russianness, and Chan brings these out to perfection.

It’s a shame Järvi isn’t here to oversee the proceedings, but he would have approved. As they say, the show must go on, and it did.