Royal Conservatoire of Scotland Symphony Orchestra

City Halls, Glasgow

Keith Bruce

four stars

EAGLE-EYED concert-goers will have recognised a few faces among the music students on the City Hall stage on Friday evening from appearances they have already made among the ranks of Scotland’s professional orchestras. There again, anyone could simply employ their ears to know that the current generation of young trainees are already snapping at the heels of the pros.

This challenging programme of Russian music was a real showcase of superbly orchestrated music by Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky and Stravinsky, conducted with style, encouragement and command by Geoffrey Paterson, an alumnus of the college whom we shall have the chance to hear again very soon, directing the BBC SSO in the same venue in a Saturday evening Hear and Now programme of contemporary music.

The first piece was the least familiar, but if the Hamlet Overture is not Tchaikovsky at his most compellingly coherent, it was still a great platform for principal oboe Gaynor Gowman, who impressed throughout, while the playing of the winds was matched by beautifully measured brass and horns.

There were to be many changes in those sections over the course of the concert, with an alternate brass cohort appearing for Night on a Bald Mountain at the start of the second half, and many further changes in the winds for the Firebird finale. For Stravinsky’s Symphony in Three Movements, pianist Iain Clarke’s crisp, sparkling playing should be singled out, but here and elsewhere it was the superbly coherent ensemble sound of the strings, across all sections, that often most impressed.

Over the course of the evening there were a few woolly entries elsewhere – more after the interval to my ears – but the culmination of the Firebird and its Dance Infernale were performed with everything they demand in terms of drama, dynamic subtlety and excitement.

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