Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

Keith Bruce

five stars

AS he reaches the end of his tenure as music director of the RSNO, if conductor Peter Oundjian was hoping to keep his powder dry in the first half of this concert for the mighty undertaking of Shostakovich’s Leningrad Symphony after the interval, then booking New York-based Chinese pianist Xiayin Wang to play the First Concerto by Tchaikovsky was a mistake. From its opening bars that are among the best known in all music, she drove the pace of the performance relentlessly. Dramatic music deserves dramatic performance and that was what Wang supplied, with principal flute Katherine Bryan and principal cello Aleksei Kiseliov in crucial supporting roles.

If the concerto is an expression of the personal history of its composer, Shostakovich’s Seventh Symphony encapsulates a pivotal moment in the history of Russia, the Soviet Union, and Europe. The huge musical narrative of the work is indelibly tied up with the circumstances of its 1942 first performance, as well as with the composer’s life as an artist. Just as importantly, nothing else sounds like it from the minute the first movement march kicks in on the side drum. It has often been noted that the RSNO is at its best on Shostakovich, and so it was here, with every musician on stage giving the work complete commitment, and looking suitably exhausted and exhilarated at the end. With Bryan and the rest of her colleagues in the winds on top form, it was the precision work of the brass that was arguably the most powerfully impressive ingredient in a reading that was, in truth, without a weak link anywhere on the platform. The subversion of military music in praise of the indomitable human spirit will, surely, never be without current resonances and the RSNO once again did Shostakovich proud in that.