Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

Keith Bruce

four stars

THE electronic organ installed in Glasgow Royal Concert Hall hardly compares with the magnificent instrument in the Usher Hall, where, had my scheduled permitted, I would have chosen to hear the RSNO perform the melodious Organ Symphony of Camille Saint-Saens, under the baton of veteran former Principal Conductor Neeme Jarvi. It is also, unlike the down-at-heel auditorium, still, presumably, box-fresh as I can count the number of occasions I have heard it played on the fingers of one hand.

For much of the work, Michael Bawtree’s job at its manuals was to provide churchy colourings to music that is much more interesting for the very particular relationship between the strings and the winds. Adequate for all that is initially required of it, when it comes to the big hymn of the finale, there is no doubt that it lacks the majesty that the Edinburgh audience must have heard the previous evening.

That tune was one of a number that have found a home outside the classical concert hall in films, on television and at sporting occasions, that Jarvi had chosen to include in the first concert his health has permitted him to fulfil in Scotland in some years. He didn’t make a big song and dance about it - although there was singing and plenty of dance music - but there was something valedictory about the tone of the evening.

His baton hand often in a position below his waist where no-one but the front desk of the violas could see it, Jarvi’s conducting technique still employs a vocabulary of facial expressions, twitches of the shoulders and flicks of the hips as well an expressive left hand. Josef Pacewicz, back in the orchestra to fill the first clarinet vacancy, was one of the few musicians he would still recognise from his time in charge. He had an early solo in the selection from Delibes’ Sylvia ballet music, but the most balletic was orchestra leader Sharon Roffman’s solo feature that follows the famous pizzicato slave dance.

The singing was from Bizet’s Carmen, and performed by Catriona Morison, whose voice is perfectly suited to the Habanera and Seguidilla, and whose French diction was especially impressive. Her contribution brought the first half to a close, so it was on the arm of associate leader Lena Zeliszewska that Maestro Jarvi left the stage at the end of the night.