Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

Keith Bruce

five stars

POULENC’S Gloria is not the most obvious choice of a work to mark the centenary of the Armistice that ended the First World War, its tragic inspiration unrelated to conflict and its premiere much more recent, but in the hands of the RSNO Chorus, under the direction of new music director Thomas Sondergard for the first time, it made the perfect conclusion to a surprisingly successful mix of programme to mark Remembrance week.

Sondergard brought along Swedish soprano Elin Rombo, whose distinctive clear tone and slight vibrato was in perfect balance with the choir on the dramatic scoring of the Domine Deus, Angus Dei, and that affinity with the stage was a thread running through the whole concert.

The last performance I heard of Prokofiev’s First Symphony erred too close to pastiche of its inspiration in earlier music. No such difficulty with Sondergard’s light touch here. If we were at the ballet in the finale, the opening movements were music for the theatre.

And if it is theatre you are after, pianist Alexander Gavrylyuk is your man. His performance of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No1 gave one of the most famous opening passages in all music full on facial expression to match the work being done by his hands, with a huge range of dynamics audible in the briefest of phrases, and hyper-active pedal technique making a telling contribution as well. He was also playing very close attention to his conductor’s baton as Sondergard produced a very singular flow through the slow movement and into the finale. Left to his own devices, the pianist was a showboating marvel on an encore of Horowitz’s arrangement of Mendelssohn’s Wedding March.

Preceding the Poulenc after the interval, three movements from Ken Johnston’s new First World War Oratorio All Those Men Who Marched Away was the RSNO debut of Glasgow Cambiata, a new choir of young men from Glasgow schools and the RSNO Junior Chorus. Reflecting the age of the young soldiers of the conflict, the work recalls the music hall music they would have known, and sits exactly right for the changing voices of the current generation and was beautifully enunciated.