EIF: A new wonder of the world

Donald Runnicles
Herald Scotland

By Michael Tumelty

Can you imagine what the effect is when somebody takes one of music’s great classics and somehow rethinks it, strips away all the accretions built up over a century or so, and presents it fresh, as though just off the page?

It hits you in the face, gives you the equivalent of an electric shock, energises your brain and brings you upright in your seat. And that is what happened on Saturday when Donald Runnicles turned his attention to Dvorak’s New World Symphony and, with his BBC SSO in towering form, delivered a sensational version of the composer’s great American masterpiece.

Runnicles didn’t just refresh the music: he renovated the whole symphony. Every detail, colour, nuance of balance, approaches to climaxes, tempo, fluctuations of pace, how phrases should start and end together, how dynamics can be varied, altering the entire perspective. And the evidence of that thinking was reflected at every level of the performance, but without getting in the way of the SSO playing it.

It was wonderful. It was a great performance in a superb concert that opened with a punchy account of Stravinsky’s Dumbarton Oaks Concerto and featured a mature Midori in an expansive, gleamingly lyrical performance of Bernstein’s multi-faceted five-movement Serenade.