Mole Antonelliana, Turin
Mole Antonelliana, Turin
Although the Orchestra Sinfonica Nazionale della Rai (OSN Rai) is a relative newcomer on the orchestral scene, making its official debut in 1994 under conductors Georges Prêtre and Giuseppe Sinopoli, it was born out of the merger of four radio orchestras (Turin, Rome, Milan and Naples). It is based in Turin, giving most of its concerts in the RAI Auditorium, and is run by state radio and television company RAI. All the concerts of the OSN Rai are broadcast on Rai Radio 3, with many of them recorded and televised on Rai3 and on Rai5.

Juraj Valčuha
Juraj Valčuha
Slovakian Principal Conductor Juraj Valčuha is at the helm for eleven Turin concerts in 2014-15, with Beethoven’s powerful Missa solemnis launching the season. One of Beethoven’s greatest works, it isn’t performed anywhere near as much as it should be. A strong vocal quartet headed by Veronica Cangemi has been assembled. Later in the season, Valčuha offers another choral masterpiece, Mozart’s Requiem.

One of the loveliest programmes combines Respighi’s Pines of Rome and Fountains of Rome with Berio’s Voci (Folk Songs II), while the Christmas programme – often a limp effort in many orchestral seasons – actually offers some tasty fare, with a couple of musical birds – Ravel’s Mother Goose and Stravinsky’s Firebird – on the festive menu. Valčuha obviously has a knack of putting together attractive programmes; in January he pairs Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde with Haydn’s Symphony no. 45 in F sharp minor. The link? Farewells. “Der Abschied” (The Farewell) is the moving final poem set in Das Lied. Haydn’s symphony is nicknamed “The Farewell”, where in the last movement the players are instructed, one by one, to cease playing, snuff out their candles on their music stands and leave the stage – a subtle hint to Haydn’s patron, Prince Nikolaus Esterházy, that it might be time for his musicians to leave the summer palace at Eszterháza and return to their homes in Eisenstadt.

A couple of Czech-influenced concerts stand out; Jakub Hrůša is on home territory with Dvořák’s Sixth Symphony, while Michele Mariotti tackles the six evocative tone poems which form Smetana’s Má vlast. Russian fare arrives with Rachmaninov’s epic Second Symphony and Tchaikovsky’s Third, known as “the Polish” because the rhythm for the finale is a Polonaise. The whole symphony is infused with dance rhythms, so it’s no surprise that George Balanchine used the last four movements for the Diamonds section of his ballet Jewels. Kirill Karabits is on the podium for the Tchaikovsky. 

Anton Bruckner makes his presence felt with two of his mighty symphonies programmed during the season. Semyon Bychkov, a masterful Bruckner conductor, takes charge for the Eighth, while Czech conductor Tomáš Netopil tackles the Fifth.

An illustration taken from the 1886 premiere at La Scala, Milan
An illustration taken from the 1886 premiere at La Scala, Milan

It’s a pity that Bizet’s opera Les pêcheurs de perles (The Pearl Fishers) isn’t staged too often, although when it is its plot often comes in for ridicule from critics. Set in ancient Ceylon, the opera deals with how the bond of friendship between two men is tested when confronted by their love for a mysterious priestess. Bizet's music is glorious – the opera is far more than just the famous duet. Perhaps concert performances offer the best solution and OSN Rai obliges with an Italian trio of singers in the lead roles.

The OSN Rai certainly attracts a good sprinkling of star soloists! Big names appearing this season include violinists Viktoria Mullova (Shostakovich 1), Simone Lamsma (Beethoven), Sasha Rozhdestvensky (Glazunov), David Garrett (Brahms) and Nikolaj Znaider (Tchaikovsky), while Renaud Capuçon is the soloist is Pascal Dusapin’s recent concerto “Aufgang”. Pianist Lise de la Salle tackles Rachmaninov’s First Piano Concerto and Argentine cellist Sol Gabetta plays the first of Saint-Saëns’ two cello concertos. Bulgarian soprano Krassimira Stoyanova sings Strauss’ Four Last Songs, under Valčuha, in the season’s closing concert. Away from the orchestra, star pianist Lang Lang is presented in a special solo recital comprising Bach, Tchaikovsky's The Seasons and Chopin's Four Scherzos - a real treat for the Turin public.