MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

End of the Runnicles Era

The conductor Donald Runnicles concluded his tenure with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra on the last day of the 2016 Edinburgh International Festival with a performance of Schoenberg’s epic Gurre-Lieder at Usher Hall.

The gargantuan forces needed bring to mind the festival atmosphere Mahler’s Eighth Symphony also evokes. Here’s a sampling of the reviews:

And so this concert summed up the kind of playing that he and this orchestra have developed together – a rich glow at the heart of the strings and a capacity to turn on a dime and power up almighty sounds.

–Kate Molleson in The Guardian

Runnicles is particularly well known for his interpretations of the core Austro-German Romantic repertoire, so Gurrelieder plays to his strengths. Under his baton Schoenberg’s ripe score yields up its influences. There is Wagner in the love music, of course, but also Bruckner in the solemnity of the Wood-Dove, Beethoven in the nature-painting and, of course, Mahler in the scale and structure. That scale could be pretty overpowering at times, and not just in the final, overwhelming greeting to the sun that ends the work. The sweep and surge of the love music was intoxicating, as was the wall of brass and percussion that accompanied the chorus’ romping as the hellish riders. What was most striking, however, was the way Runnicles repeatedly brought out the delicacy of the orchestration.

–Simon Thompson for Seen and Heard International

[Schoenberg’s] mega-cantata Gurrelieder, was the vehicle chosen to whisk us off on such a glorious journey, driven by the massively-inflated forces of the BBC Scottish Synphony Orchestra, a male-dominated Edinburgh Festival Chorus, five soloists and speaker, all under the towering leadership of maestro Donald Runnicles, and formulated by a musical language gathering up the scraps of Wagner, colouring them with whole-tone harmonic treats from Debussy, sweeping up Mahler in its tracks before opening the gates to teasers of the world-changing Schoenberg-to-come.

–Ken Walton in The Scotsman

This concert will be broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on Friday 16 September at 7.30pm.

Filed under: conductors, Runnicles, Schoenberg

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