The Royal Scottish National Orchestra’s season is only three weekends old, but this is already the second time that I’ve heard them play a 20th-century violin concerto with an impressive American soloist that I hadn’t come across before. Just like Stefan Jackiw in the Britten concerto, Philippe Quint played Korngold with flair, panache and bags of character.

Philippe Quint, Christian Reif and the Royal Scottish National Orchestra
© Jessica Cowley

I sometimes wonder whether I hear Korngold’s music differently because I know he was also a film composer. Do I end up retro-fitting movie star characteristics to his concert works when really they don’t belong there? I, not entirely sure, but I am sure that it’s the musical qualities that gave Quint’s violin playing such fantastic character in this concerto. His playing was assertive and colourful, full of personality; suave and debonair in the first movement and full of gently glowing lyricism. He sounded sleek and gorgeous in the slow movement and swashbuckled his way through the finale with a dashing sense of harum-scarum. His sound throbbed with vibrato and was perfectly spotlit without ever sounding garish.

The orchestral sound that supported him was lush but restrained, almost decadently ripe in the Romanze but never overdone, and everything was always clear. That was partly thanks to conductor Christian Reif who shaped the piece with certainty and lightness of touch. He’s fascinating to watch on the podium, his long arms curling gracefully through the air as he flicks each sound into being, and the RSNO responded to him very well.

Christian Reif, Philippe Quint and the RSNO in rehearsal
© Jessica Cowley

That was important in Julia Perry’s A Short Piece for Orchestra, a highly driven but very varied piece that combines dissonance with lyricism. Parts of it carry hints of the prinked delicacy you’d expect to find in Webern, and those components sounded great here. Perry studied with Dallapiccola in the 1950s, and you can hear his influence in Perry’s piece, albeit with the sharp edges of modernism noticeably softened.

After the Korngold, the orchestra successfully transformed themselves from Hollywood glitz into central European seriousness with Dvořák’s Symphony no. 7 in D minor, but with still a touch of movie star glamour in playing that was smooth as silk, perhaps a little too smooth for the craggy opening movement. However, beautifully sweet winds effectively balanced strong strings, a combination that was perfect for the slow movement where both of those elements sounded gloriously rich. Thanks to Reif’s attention to detail, there was a pleasing sense of ebb and flow to the third movement, the music swelling and receding with airy grandeur, and the finale carried a proper sense of weight, its final major key peroration feeling like a rich overflowing towards which the whole evening had been building. 

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