The BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra are in Edinburgh for one of their regular Sunday afternoon concerts. This is a good time to listen to classical music, and both the Usher Hall audience and the musicians seem to be very alert. The orchestra, under their Principal Guest Conductor, Ilan Volkov, are also very well prepared, having played this concert previously in Glasgow (broadcast on Radio 3).
The concert begins with the world premiere of The Air, Turning, by young British composer Edmund Finnis. The title is taken from a beautiful poem Finding the Keys, by Scottish poet Robin Robertson. It has inspired a lovely melodic composition of shimmering strings and percussion, which shows the skill and colours of a very big BBC SSO. This work demonstrates that modern music doesn’t have to be atonal or “plinky plonky”, but can be beautiful and tuneful.
The concert continues with a lively performance of Rachmaninov’s second piano concerto, played by the young Ukrainian pianist, Vadym Kholodenko, who gives a very Russian account of a great Russian work. This is not surprising, since he was trained at the Moscow Conservatoire. From its great opening piano chords onwards, the pianist is in perfect harmony with the conductor and the orchestra, which given he was a late replacement, is truly striking. He gets a great reception from the Usher Hall audience and gives a lovely little solo encore of a Rachmaninov melody.
The second half of the concert is the great symphonic suite: Scheherazade by Rimsky-Korsakov. As the programme notes point out, the composer saw himself as an opera composer, but this brilliant colourful orchestral work, loosely based on the 1001 Tales of Arabian Nights, has overshadowed all his operas, and is one of the most widely performed works of all time. It is always a pleasure to listen to, and the BBC Scottish gives it a great performance.
In particular, Laura Samuel, the orchestra’s leader, gives a fine performance of the opening violin solo and other solo parts, and is solidly backed by the many instrumentalists who feature in this vibrant colourful work. Ilan Volkov is completely in command of the orchestra, and the packed Usher Hall audience gives it a warm reception at the end. It is indeed a great Russian Sunday afternoon!