John Wallace Valedictory Concert

John Wallace Valedictory Concert

RCS, Glasgow

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Michael Tumelty

five stars

IF there was anything predictable about the valedictory concert for John Wallace, outgoing principal of the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, it was that it was probably going to be an unpredictable, mercurial and totally original presentation.

And so it proved on Friday. Who could have foretold that we would see the RCS chairman, Lord Vallance, last heard in public performance at Glasgow Academy 55 years ago, sitting at a Steinway grand playing a Chopin Nocturne, arranged by John Wallace with a brass group. And very expressive playing it was too, as I remarked to the chairman after the performance. "I won't give up the day job," he commented wryly.

And who would have imagined we'd see a brass group playing the lovely, characterful and virtually unknown French brass quintet of Bellon, with two players (including Wallace on trumpet) wearing gloves because the sweat acid in their fingers would damage the delicate historical instruments on which the music was played?

It was, indeed, the concert with everything, from Gordon McPherson's stunning new piece for two trumpets and electronics, Tallman and Mantz 1961, whose perpetual motion buzzing and near-baroque exchanges between those two veteran trumpet chums and collaborators, John Wallace and John Miller, were electrifying, to a taster of an Edward McGuire piece new to this turf; to the great dollop of Victorian melodrama in Michael Balfe's Excelsior, fabulously sung by Julia Daramy-Williams and baritone Euros Campbell, as well as an intriguing glimpse of the young John Wallace, a first-study composer, whose highly-effective student clarinet composition, Quiraing, was superbly delivered by student clarinettist Ewan Zuckert.

And throughout the event there was, of course, the consistent presence of the New Wallace Collection, re-born with some old hands, some fresh faces, magically-subtle brass playing, and not a Sousa March in sight. But the focus, ultimately, fell on the students as the RCS Sinfonietta and soprano Heather Jamieson, who,with conductor Peter Manning, gave a transparent account of two movements from Mahler's Fourth Symphony. Wacky and wonderful: the complete Wallace.