“There are few musicians as rewarding to watch at work as the diminutive Elim Chan”

29th October 2019 | By: Keith Bruce
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There are few musicians as rewarding to watch at work as the diminutive Elim Chan, the RSNO’s astute recent appointment as Principal Guest Conductor. Her meticulous account of Shostakovich’s Tenth Symphony, an hour-long expression of orchestral narrative of singular status, was always transparently clear in her intention, even if the composer’s precise purpose is still – as in everything he wrote – open to interpretation.

From the sense of fearsome space about the opening of the first movement through to its surprisingly joyous conclusion, her baton-less direction of the band was filled with the most precise, minute gestures that always produced the result she wanted from the players. Alongside the happy relationship with music director Thomas Sondergard, this is a partnership that is at the early stages of being one of the most fruitful in the orchestra’s history.

Saturday’s programme began in a similar style to the matches in rugby’s World Cup in Japan, with the big bass drums of Joe Richards and David Lyons playing flanker to soloist Martin Grubinger’s fly half in Finnish composer Kalevi Aho’s percussion concerto, Sieidi. There was a simplistic Lego-like construction to the work, with the virtuosic, boyish Grubinger moving sequentially through his international array of instruments in a way that was often a little too obvious. That progression was full of dynamic material for the soloist, and some astonishingly fast playing, but for all the theatre at the front of the stage, the more interesting music was in the playing of the orchestra. Aho’s scoring was, appropriately, reminiscent of Shostakovich, as well as Stravinsky, and the melodic content was democratically shared among the sections, with the alto sax of Simon Haram to the fore, as clarinetist Timothy Orpen would be in the symphony after the interval.

With recent RSNO recruit Emily Davis in the leader’s chair and many front-desk players absent, this was a very different looking RSNO in many areas, but – at risk of labouring the rugby analogy – it demonstrated eloquently the strength in depth of Scotland’s squad of musicians.