Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

Keith Bruce

five stars

HAVING Scottish pianist Steven Osborne as the RSNO’s Artist in Residence this season was always going to be box-office catnip, but in making his first concert such a thoughtful programme, music director Thomas Sondergard really hit the jackpot.

Osborne was playing, with the sort of musical intelligence and reflective grace he brings to an astonishing range of repertoire, the final Piano Concerto of Mozart, No.27. Like the Sixth Symphony of Tchaikovsky, the Pathetique, it has come down to us as a last will and testament of the composer, although how much the latter was intended as such is still a matter of some debate. If it is always a risk to impose autobiographical narrative on music, there was also the unavoidable danger of sounding downbeat in the conductor’s brief words of introduction. The performance, however, gave the lie to that, no least in the much less familiar opener, Nachtstuck from Frank Schreker’s opera Der ferne Klang (The Distant Sound). This 15-minute tone poem, depicting a composer at the end of his days, is big dramatic music that calls for eight percussionists, two harps and celesta — exactly the sort of music at which the RSNO and Sondergard excel.

The contrast with the orchestral forces required for the Mozart could hardly have been greater, but the players, and especially the strings, led again here by Lena Zeliszewska, brought exactly the right tone to both. Osborne’s immaculate phrasing of the range of rhythms in the solo part was a joy.

The Tchaikovsky may begin and end in the tonal depth of the orchestra, but it is no more miserable than the Mozart for much of its three-quarters of an hour. With the orchestra’s cellos beginning the second movement in sumptuous ensemble, the shift from the exuberance of the Third Movement march to the sweep of the strings at the start of the slow finale was perfectly poised. A smattering of (understandable) early applause there was answered by the long moment of silence before the ovation for musicians at the concert’s end.