RSNO Centre, Glasgow

Keith Bruce

four stars

AS well as the National Youth Choir of Scotland performing Lelio with Les Siecles under the baton of Francois-Xavier Roth, the Berlioz weekend at the Philhamormie de Paris has Eugene Tzigane on the podium for the Symphonie fantastique played by the Orchestre National D’Ile-de-France, and by coincidence the Japan-born conductor was in Glasgow a few days earlier for the last of this season’s lunchtime concerts in the orchestra’s own new auditorium.

There are again just three of these in the new RSNO season brochure, but the organisation must surely be looking at the possibility of increasing that number given their growing popularity. This programme pushed the strand’s repertoire into a new zone with Stuart MacRae’s orchestral piece, Birches, commissioned by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra over a decade ago and, somewhat surprisingly, the first work by the Scottish composer to be performed by the RSNO.

Given an informative introduction by Tzigane and MacRae himself, it is a very atmospheric work that very effectively conjures pictures of Scots native woodland, with pizzicato strings suggesting rainfall in a forest, launched by principal viola Tom Dunn and taken up by all the players. There are, MacRae explained, human beings in this remembered Highland landscape, which he created while resident in Germany, but the essentially environmental theme of the work made its rediscovery timely.

It also sat very comfortably immediately before Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony, which might quite feasibly have been in MacRae’s subconscious when he was writing. Perhaps the least frequently performed of the nine, it seems to be having better fortune of late, and Tzigane directed the first movement from memory before opening his score at the start of the Adagio. With the later movements full of rhythmic playfulness, there was some fine bassoon from Luis Eisen, and guest first clarinet Nick Carpenter and principal flute Katherine Bryan also made important contributions.

With Beethoven’s Egmont Overture opening the programme, it was a trailer for the composer’s upcoming anniversary year, and as always in this space, it was a delight to hear the orchestra with the sort of clarity that is not available in the big hall next door.