Usher Hall, Edinburgh

Keith Bruce

four stars

AS RADIO station Classic FM’s orchestral partner in Scotland, the RSNO teamed up with presenter John Suchet for this coda to its own subscription season which was superficially of a piece with other weekends in the year and yet subtly different in more than just his on-stage introductions to all the works.

This was a programme of very well-known beginnings, most notably the opening work with principal flute Katherine Bryan beginning Debussy’s Prelude a l’apres-midi d’un faun, and then the iconic opening bars of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony at the end.

The melodies of Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto are not a long way down that list of familiar favourites, however, and if Kari Kriikku’s use of the basset instrument for which it was composed is less unusual these days than Suchet suggested, the Finn’s chosen performance stance, cross-legged on a piano stool on the sort of plinth more usually occupied by cellists, was more of a novelty.

So too, was his performance, accentuating the extra range of the longer clarinet but in other ways very measured and understated, and clearly with a careful ear to period instrument practice. The RSNO, with Maya Iwabuchi in the leader’s chair, responded in the way they had when playing Mozart with her as a soloist in their home venue a fortnight ago, showing what a fine chamber orchestra it can be – the pianissimo strings in the second movement perfectly poised.

This was the music that seemed to suit conductor Clemens Schuldt best as well. Come the Beethoven, following four of Dvorak’s Slavonic Dances, he and the orchestra were as fleet-footed from the start, and the very deliberate pacing of the Andante suggested a conception of the work that could be memorably original. In the Scherzo, sadly, that verve was lost and by the finale there was a disappointing lack of focus in the balance between winds and strings and in rhythmic drive.