RCS Symphony Orchestra/Cottis

Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Glasgow

Keith Bruce

four stars

THE destination of this “Nordic Journey” under the batons of Jessica Cottis and, initially, the Conservatoire’s Leverhulme Conducting Fellow, Teresa Riviera Bohm, was the Fifth Symphony of Sibelius, with its marvellous concluding “swan hymn” ear-worm. It was perhaps unfortunate that the work had so recently been played in Scotland by the SCO with Pekka Kuusisto, because, while there was no ambiguity in the conductor’s direction of it, the horns and trumpets inevitably seemed a little tentative by comparison, although there was a muscular assurance in the string playing.

The first half of the concert had featured equally colourful, and very carefully selected, repertoire, with much hot-desking between pieces, demonstrating how many fine players are currently completing their studies in Glasgow.

Bohm directed the beautiful sunrise of Carl Nielsen’s Helios Overture, which has as challenging an arc as a conducting fellow might wish to work with, and the swell and diminuendo was consummately realised. It was mirrored by the atmospheric LOGOS by Benjamin de Murashkin, Danish by birth, which had some highly complex rhythmic hurdles for all sections and kept the percussionists busy throughout, as well as featuring some bold low brass. Shifts in tempo and the balance of the considerable forces made for a demanding work to perform, precisely controlled by Cottis.

If Sibelius was audible in that work’s orchestration, it is also an important influence on the piece played in between. Rautavaara’s Cantus Articus, with its recordings of bird song running alongside the live performance, has become a very popular concert work, and it also leads to an evocation of swans in flight. The flute and oboe soloists here were different from those who had made memorable contributions to the Nielsen, but the standard of performance was consistently high, with very coherent ensemble playing in the central Melankolia movement, especially in some beautifully measured brass.