SOMEBODY, somewhere, will say that I've gone soft when I state that I absolutely loved the RSNO Valentine's Classics concert on Saturday night. Do I care? Not a jot. I can just hear the voices and see the raised eyebrows: "Just a glorified Gubbay gig." No it wasn't; but, in any event, a good concert is a good concert, whatever the livery. This was more than a good concert: it was a real bit of class, in production and performance.
For the occasion, the RSNO had an interesting conductor in young Frenchman Jean-Claude Picard, in at the deep end for his first winter season concert in his new role as RSNO assistant conductor. He'll be well steered by the RSNO players, but he is already clearly a man with a strong sense of fluidity, dynamism and style. He's definitely got something, and it showed in his instrumental numbers from Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin and in Lehar's Fledermaus Overture.
And he knows something about accompanying singers, too, to judge from the splendid performances by fast-rising singers, soprano Kishani Jayasinghe, and the unstoppable Borders tenor with a personality the size of a region, the brilliant Nicky Spence, in a stream of numbers from Eugene Onegin, La Boheme, with the biggest come-on ever from Rodolfo to Mimi (Spence is wickedly funny) to My Fair Lady extracts, and the great chorus from La Rondine, with the RSNO Chorus very robust.
The numbers just piled up in this cracking show, with a Lehar sequence in the second half, along with extracts from La Traviata, RCS students popping up in quartets, and a heart-melting account of Ae Fond Kiss from tenor and soprano. Splendid night.