ROSO spellbounds in latest concert

By Georgina Benison — The Royal Oman Symphony Orchestra has been performing in Oman for thirty years now, and yet the concert on Thursday evening at the al Bustan Palace Hotel, a Ritz-Carlton hotel, represented something of a milestone in its development. The first accolade must go to this season’s guest conductor, the Venezuelan-born Rodolfo Saglimbeni. Since his arrival at the beginning of this year and raised his baton in rehearsals the ROSO, with Mohammed Al Hashmi as its Leader, became like a new orchestra, with a fresh and warm sound as rarely enjoyed before.
Tonight’s concert was not held in the grand and familiar ‘Oman Auditorium’ as some refurbishment is taking place, but instead in the magnificent Majan Ballroom under crystal chandeliers, and this led to a more intimate contact between musicians and audience, and an immediacy in the orchestral sound.
The title of the evening’s musical journey, Romantic Masterworks, was not entirely accurate as some of the pieces had roots in the Classical period, but the programme opened with the Norwegian Edvard Grieg’s, “Peer Gynt Suite no. 1”, composed in 1876. The story of Peer Gynt is one of Norway’s most beloved legends and Grieg’s music, taking inspiration from folk melodies in a spirit of Nordic Nationalism, is one of the best-known works in the repertoire. It consists of four movements, each reassuringly familiar in the popular memory.
It must be said, the performance got off to a shaky start in that most iconic of symphonic openings, “Morning” – heard in many a coffee or bread advertisement – with some unsure entrances from the brass, which perhaps had not had a chance to warm up fully, resulting in poor intonation from the whole ensemble. That is my only reservation in what was otherwise a superb concert which went on to delight and engage the audience until the final chord.
The second movement of the Grieg is for strings, “The Death of Ase” and it was so beautifully executed, with the most poignant ‘pianissimo’ passages that it was utterly sublime, reaching a superlative quality of musicianship early on in the programme.
The third movement, “Anitra’s Dance”, was equally beautiful and rhythmically propelled, leading energetically into the finale, “In the Hall of the Mountain King”. This opened with a fine bass-string melody, which built up in rhythmic crescendo until people were bouncing in their seats in sympathy with the compulsive ostinato, until its crashing climax.
Bravo ROSO and bravo Mr. Saglimbeni. Follow that!
Well, they did; the 1st clarinettist of the orchestra became the soloist in Carl Maria Von Weber’s “Concertino for Clarinet and orchestra”, composed in 1811 for Heinrich Berman, the leading clarinettist in Germany at the time. It is clearly influenced by Mozart’s treatment of the instrument, and as such lies firmly in the Classical repertoire. The Concertino is a shorter, lighter form of concerto for clarinet and orchestra in one movement – a Theme with Variations – which lasted about 9 minutes. On Thursday, the 44-year-old Barka-born Ammar Bin Ali Bin Salim al Awaisi became the excellent soloist of this fine, yet rarely heard work and, following in the footsteps of Heba al Sharif as last month’s violin soloist in ROSO’s performance of Beethoven’s “Romance No.2”, Ammar may rightly feel proud to be one of the first ROSO members to take the role of soloist in a public performance. His playing was brilliant, accurate, warm and well-placed, with an idiosyncratic little blowing on the keys between passages. I look forward to hearing more extended solo performances from this Omani musician as he establishes himself on an international stage.
After a well-earned interval, the orchestra returned to the platform to perform Tchaikovsky in neo-Classical mood. His fourth Orchestral Suite, composed in 1887 as a tribute to the 100th anniversary of the opera “Don Giovanni”, is subtitled “Mozartiana” and consists of four orchestrations of piano pieces by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. But being the finest orchestrator of his time, Tchaikovsky achieved a veritable masterpiece. It is scored for pairs of wind, harp, percussion and strings, giving the effect of the genius of Mozart stepping into the Romantic musical world of a Russian symphony. It was delightful; Tchaikovsky’s unmistakeable brilliant use of orchestral colour – especial mention of the harpist and first clarinettist who are unnamed in the ROSO programme notes – tapered to the delicacy and structural perfection of Mozart’s compositions.
‘Tchaikovsky had hoped to re-create the past in a contemporary world’ quotes Abdullah Al Asmi of “Mozartiana”, but on Thursday evening ROSO brought us back to the genteel times of a 19th Century concert hall, where the drop of a pin could have been heard among the transfixed and spell-bound public of a 21st century Muscat. Bravo!