This all-Grieg program by the Royal Scottish National Orchestra presented familiar repertoire that sounded remarkably fresh and vibrant, underscoring that its great fame is thoroughly justified. In particular, the Piano Concerto in A minor was given a wonderfully natural performance, equal parts bravura and lyricism. Pianist Paul Lewis, placed in the middle of the orchestra directly in the line of sight of conductor Edward Gardner, demonstrated his consummate artistry in one of the Romantic era's best-known piano concertos. From its snap-to-attention opening to its poetic cadenza, the first movement Allegro molto moderato flowed, the musical arguments presented with simple elegance (nothing seeming "forced"). The first movement ending was also perfectly done, with none of the excessive ritardando that too many other performers employ in an effort to make the music sound more "profound".  These artists seem to realize that the music is perfectly fine just the way it is.

Paul Lewis plays Grieg with the RSNO
© Royal Scottish National Orchestra

In the Adagio that followed, every phrase was shaped with taste and affection. Similar lyricism held sway in the middle portion of the final movement as well, even as it was bookended by an incisive opening and an exhilarating conclusion. Throughout the concerto, woodwind solos – particularly the oboe and flute – were ravishing, while Gardner's direction was polished and stylish. It made for a highly effective performance of a piece that can sometimes sound a tad too predictable, or even hackneyed, in the hands of less probing artists.

On either side of the Piano Concerto, the two suites from Grieg's incidental music to Peer Gynt were presented. The second suite opened the concert. Unfortunately, the first two numbers had their drawbacks, microphone issues possibly responsible for heavy-handed treatment of the repeated accompaniment in the middle strings during the opening bars of Ingrid's Lament. In the Arabian Dance that followed, the percussion sounded similarly severe, making the dance come off less like sinuous Middle Eastern curves and more like Dutch clogs. But redemption was close at hand, with a Peer Gynt's Homecoming that bristled with visceral excitement; for once, Peer's shipwreck really sounded like one. And the poignant melodic lines in Solveig's Song were beautifully shaped.

Edward Gardner conducts the RSNO
© Royal Scottish National Orchestra

The first suite, which closed the RSNO program, was excellent from first note to last. Morning Mood had a noteworthy sweep, with the interplay of the woodwinds particularly effective. Åse's Death was plaintively poetic, while Anitra's Dance had the lilt that had been somehow lacking in the Arabian Dance. The concluding In the Hall of the Mountain King began suitably creepy, with the bassoon building on the tension. The movement concluded in a blaze of color, with timpani leading the charge and flattening everything in their wake – a great, big exclamation point on a supremely satisfying concert.

This performance was reviewed from the RSNO video stream