The central work for the RSNO tonight is Bruckner’s massive Eighth Symphony. But before the interval we have, as a warm up, Mozart’s delightful Piano Concerto No 25 in C, played by stand in pianist Christian Blackshaw, who had a long period away from the concert stage after the death of his wife. He has a very impressive CV and at age 69 gives a very mature but passionate account of Mozart’s great concerto. Blackshaw recorded all the Mozart piano concertos at the Wigmore Hall and the result was named as one of the best classical records of the year by the New York Times in 2015. The RSNO, under the direction of their music director Peter Oundjian, are very much in harmony, and it is very well received by the Usher Hall audience.
After the interval the RSNO is much augmented with extra brass, percussion and three harps (who wait all night to play a few notes!) In total, more than 80 musicians are on stage to perform this mighty 80 minute long work. Indeed, its length was one of the reasons this work was not well received when originally composed in 1887. Bruckner had to make a revised shorter version to get it performed in 1892 and the original long version was not performed till 1973 in London. Tonight’s version is an arrangement of the original long version by Yale professor of music Paul Hawkshaw and as conductor Peter Oundjian says, is probably the closest we will come to hearing the original intentions of the composer.
Bruckner Eight is an immense work in every way, from the darkness of its opening passages to the triumphal final movement and the RSNO under Oundjian’s skilled baton seem to be revelling in it. Perhaps the fact that they have already played it in Perth has given them a familiarity with the work to release their inhibitions and give it their all. Certainly, the drummer revels in the mighty fourth movement. The audience respond warmly and are left admiring a great work in its new arrangement by a great composer.