Photo: Tom Finnie

@ Usher Hall, Edinburgh, on Fri 6 May 2016

Tonight’s concert is the second of the RSNO’s Stravinsky Project. The previous week, we heard two of his symphonies. Tonight, we hear two ballet scores that caused scandals.

The first is by Béla Bartók: his suite from The Miraculous Mandarin—a work rarely performed, and yet for 1928, a daring work that centres on human exploitation, money and sex. It is based on a tale by the Hungarian expressionist Melchior Lengyel, who had consulted Sigmund Freud. Unlike much of his other works, this is seriously dark and violent stuff, and Bartók’s orchestration and musical language is like nothing else he ever wrote again. It insinuates the hurly-burly of modern life, aggression and congestion.

The first of the two Stravinsky works is another less-performed work: his Violin Concerto from 1931. Stravinsky was a musical maverick, and this concerto shows his more neo-classical side. It is serious and playful and is mostly based on a three note chord. The four movements exploit this musical germ, which include two arias that form the inner core of the work. The sizzling toccata at the end obviously inspired Bernstein’s Serenade for violin. This is all played with great panache by Spanish violinist Leticia Moreno.

Finally, the famous scandal of all: Stravinsky’s ballet The Rite of Spring, premièred in 1913 in the newly built Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris. Commissioned by the ballet impresario Sergei Diaghilev, it was unlike anything the composer had written so far, focussing on a pagan Russian ritual.

The first section is concerned with the adoration of the earth with emphasis on folk melodies and dances; the second is based on the ultimate sacrifice of the Chosen One—a young virgin girl whose death comes at the end of a violent sacrificial dance, which is one of the greatest demonstrations of wild and violent rhythms in the twentieth century. Again, this is played brilliantly by the RSNO.

A fantastic piece of programming.