Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

Keith Bruce

four stars

THE cover star of the RSNO's brochure for the coming Glasgow season, percussionist John Poulter, provided a crucial element of theatre in music director Thomas Sondergard's penultimate concert of the current one, wielding the big wooden mallet for the hammer blows that punctuate the finale of Mahler's Sixth Symphony. With Belshazzar's Feast still to come on the first of next month, the hour-and-a-quarter epic signalled the big finish to Sondergard's first year, and Poulter's eye-catching role was just one of a long list of memorable contributions from the orchestral players, his own expanded section including talented young tympanist Lauren O'Malley from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, partnering principal Paul Philbert as well as taking care of the triangle Poulter is wielding in that cover shot.

This music was a widescreen experience from Lynda Cochrane's celesta to John Whitener's tuba, with leader Sharon Roffman on sensational form for her solo moments, following her crucial role in last week's conductor-less concerts.

For the first half of the concert the musicians were more in that mode, albeit with Sondergard in place on the podium, with a lighter touch to the sumptuous string playing for Mozart's Piano Concerto No 23 in A, particularly when combined with the winds in the melodious central Adagio. Although the convention that soloists play from memory is open to question, at a time when entire orchestras are doing that for mainstream repertoire, it did seem odd that a pianist of the experience of Ingrid Fliter was using a score on a tablet computer for such a well-known piece, and her playing was occasionally a little heavy-handed, with some odd foot-stomping in the mix as well.

By the speedy closing rondo, however, the pianist and orchestra were an exuberant and precise partnership, and - as every one in the hall must have wished - Fliter added an encore of the Chopin for which she is much better known.