Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

Keith Bruce

four stars

GLASGOW’s concert hall opened a month after the death of Leonard Bernstein and Saturday night’s US-focused concert was the sort of occasion for which it was built. Here was Scotland’s national symphony orchestra playing an all-American programme at the start of its celebration of the centenary of Bernstein’s birth to a capacity house that surely included many of those who are attracted to the orchestra’s concerts of film music alongside season regulars.

Family and friends of the RSNO Chorus were there too, as the singers were in their place in the choir stalls for Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms, which opened the programme. Treble soloist Andrew Watt from the Junior Chorus was probably taking his last chance in the spotlight in that role, but I’m sure he’ll soon be warmly welcomed into the ranks of the tenors and basses behind him. They also made fine contribution to the work’s second movement, but had lacked heft at the start and were a little ragged at the start of the third.

After the interval guest conductor Christian Macelaru – who has taken the Violin Concerto Wynton Marsalis wrote for Nicola Benedetti across the US with Scotland’s international star – found the through-composed essence of Bernstein’s Symphonic Dances from West Side Story. The suite not only contains the whole narrative of the film, it gave many soloists within the ranks of the RSNO an opportunity to shine as well as a work-out for the percussionists.

Following that with Samuel Barber’s one-movement First Symphony was asking a lot of a less-well-known work, but its cinematic sweep met the challenge, and illustrated the European models 20th century American composers were looking to.

Star turn of the evening, however, was young American pianist George Li, whose account of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue was as soulful as you’d wish as well as technically masterful. His articulation of the Latin figure that precedes the work’s finale was quite astonishing, and his encore of Horovitz’s Carmen Variations the ultimate party-piece.