Kevin John Edusei has been chief conductor at the Munich Symphony Orchestra since 2014, a tenure which will conclude at the end of this season. Recently, however, he has started to make appearances across the UK and, in this concert, made his debut with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra in a programme of Rachmaninov, Beethoven and Coleridge-Taylor.

Kevin John Edusei
© Mark Allan

Edusei is clearly an engaging figure on the podium, giving a clear beat, and it was pleasing to see the clear extent to which he was communicating with the orchestra throughout all three pieces. I wondered initially at the placing of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s Ballade in A minor with the Rachmaninov and Beethoven, but there is a certain drama and pulse in this small ten-minute piece that is reflected in the other two works. The music of Coleridge-Taylor has made something of a comeback as more attention is being given to minority composers and it’s clear from the Ballade that he had a tight grip on orchestral writing. Edusei’s brisk tempi were energetic, but he gave plenty of space for the strings to breathe and there were some appealingly plush pizzicati from the lower strings. There were one or two moments, though, where a little more restraint on the orchestra would have allowed more nuance to seep through and really show the piece at its best.

Pianist Roman Kosyakov joined the RPO for Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto no. 2 in C minor. This was a slightly strange performance where the communication between conductor and the orchestra did not seem to extend to the pianist; there seemed to be a curious lack of musical chemistry here which left a sense that Kosyaokov and the RPO were playing as if in isolation from each other. Too often in the first movement Kosyakov seemed submerged below the orchestral textures, an absence of definition preventing him from cutting through the players in a meaningful way. Edusei’s reading of the score was a full-throttled sweeping interpretation, an imbalance to Kosyakov’s quieter, more meditative approach. Certain points stood out, particularly among the woodwinds where there was some splendid flute-playing in the second movement, while in the finale we had some really glossy moments from the strings.

After the interval, a voyage to the countryside with the “Pastoral” Symphony. As with the earlier pieces, it seemed a slightly gentler approach would at times have been more ideal and it was telling that Edusei’s interpretation was at its strongest in the more forceful third and fourth movements. Still, there was much to enjoy, particularly again in the woodwinds with some subtle moments of real skill in the opening movements. The RPO seemed to run into difficulties in the thanksgiving after the storm, with a number of fluffed notes, but on the whole reasonable justice was done to Beethoven's symphony.