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Dvořák, Kurt Schwertsik and Bruckner: Håkan Hardenberger (trumpet), Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Kritstjan Järvi, Edinburgh Festival Theatre, 26.04.2009 (SRT) 

Dvořák: Scherzo Capriccioso
Kurt Schwertsik: Divertimento macchiato, op.99 (2007)
Bruckner: Symphony No. 6 

Kritstjan Järvi has produced great work with the RSNO before and it was good to welcome him back to
Scotland this weekend.  He cut a sleek and somewhat understated figure on the podium, but the musical results were great.  The Dvořák was really exciting and, yes, capricious!  The pace was the most winning aspect of this piece, particularly in the closing pages which blazed with sheer excitement.  The various moods were handled well, particularly the second subject where the strings really leaned into their phrasing.  Likewise, the trio section felt almost pastoral with its prominent woodwinds.  He had the full measure of the piece, as with the Bruckner.  Here is a conductor who understands the full architectural scale of the sixth symphony.  From the outset of the first movement there was a grasp of where the movement was going: the end of the exposition felt like the natural end of a huge phrase where so often Bruckner’s moments can feel stilted and artificial.  Likewise, the slow unfolding of the vast adagio was gentle and unhurried within a cosmic scale, with gorgeous, burnished tone from the RSNO strings, so important in a Bruckner slow movement.  The finale perhaps felt a little lightweight, but I suspect that’s more Bruckner’s fault than Järvi’s.  It’s a rare treat hearing a Bruckner symphony performed in Scotland, and it’s gratifying, though in no way surprising, to hear it so well done with our own orchestra.

The most interesting work of the evening, however, was the Divertimento Macchiato, featuring the magnificent Håkan Hardenberger as trumpet soloist.  Composer Kurt Schwertsik (b. 1935) was a pupil of Stockhausen but he composes in a firmly tonal manner.  The impenetrable programme notes (by the composer!) shed no light whatsoever on the work’s rather bizarre title; suffice it to say that it comprises a suite of brief movements just like a Mozartian divertimento, only for 21st century ears.  The first and last movements were like demented zany marches, but to me this was predominantly a nocturnal work.  Most of the inner movements were slow and dreamlike, and quite entrancing.  The solo trumpet plays such a dominant role as almost to make this a miniature concerto.  It goes without saying that Hardenberger played with consummate skill and a great deal of subtlety, displaying every carefully studied nuance of this really interesting work.  The composer himself appeared for a well deserved bow at the end.

Scandalously, this concert marks the end of the orchestra’s
Edinburgh season.  Two further concerts were planned but, due to the outrageous overrunning of the Usher Hall restoration, they have had to be cancelled.  It is an outrage that an orchestra doing such good work should have been obstructed by something so utterly beyond their control.  The players and the musical public of Edinburgh have every right to be angry at the interminable delays.   The orchestra’s new season has just been announced and every concert is due to be performed in the Usher Hall, provided, of course, that it is ready.  The Edinburgh Festival Theatre has served its purpose, but I can’t wait to be back in the Usher Hall’s warmer, honeyed acoustic.  Roll on October!

This concert was recorded by BBC Radio 3 and will be broadcast on 28 April.

For full details of the RSNO’s 2009-10 season go to

Simon Thompson

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