Søndergård Conducts Pathétique, Royal Scottish National Orchestra Usher Hall Review

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Royal Scottish National Orchestra
Sibelius, Symphony No 6; Lindberg, Clarinet Concerto; Tchaikovsky Symphony No 6 Pathétique
Thomas Søndergård (conductor), Kari Kriikku (clarinet)
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Before the concert began I overheard the comment that the Lindberg Clarinet Concerto was simple something to fill a gap between the symphonies of Sibelius and Tchaikovsky. But what we were to witness was Kari Kriikku's extraordinary clarinet playing.

Sometimes a pre-concert talk can exaggerate what we are about to experience. For this concert, with viola player Katherine Wren introducing her guest, Kari Kriikku, and allowing him to demonstrate how he uses his clarinet we only heard a fraction of the magic that Magnus Lindberg had composed. Written for and with Kriikku, Lindberg's Clarinet Concerto was first performed in 2002. Kriikku has given it well over sixty outings so far. It was the cadenza where we heard a clarinet played to the highest and the lowest notes even with a touch of a jazz player's motions to add drama.

Kari Kriikku had described an introvert Finn as one when speaking to you would look at his feet - whilst an extrovert would look at your feet. I suspect both he and Lindberg are extrovert. But what of Sibelius whose Sixth Symphony had begun the concert under the baton of Danish born Thomas Søndergård, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra's Principal Guest Conductor. If it seemed strange to start with a symphony this infrequently heard work of Sibelius was as it is usually described - quiet, calm and profound.

A few days after the first performance of Tchaikovsky's Symphony No 6 in 1893 in St Petersburg the composer was dead but not before his brother had suggested the symphony be called Pathétique. It's the work which comes to an almighty height when you think its at its victorious end - but then declines rapidly into a state of gloom and despair to end in silence. Thomas Søndergård held his baton for a silence longer than I have heard before, and extraordinarily there wasn't even a cough in the audience. Very moving, but the thought of the composer's closeted homosexuality and the very real probability that he had taken his own life is there to haunt for ever.

Performance: Friday 6th March 2015 at 7.30pm.