Perth Concert Hall

Keith Bruce

four stars

THERE were no Austrians in the front line of the first of the RSNO’s Viennese Galas that kicked off the national orchestra’s concert year, but instead an international line-up of soloists playing music that ranged far from the home city of Johann Strauss II and his Beautiful Blue Danube waltz, and Thunder and Lightning Polka.

They included Minsk-born principal cello Aleksei Kiseliov, opening the evening with Frank Von Suppe’s Overture to Morning, Noon and Night in Vienna, orchestra leader Maya Iwabuchi, from Tokyo, playing Julie Massenet’s Meditation from Thais with harpist Pippa Tunnell, who also combined with first flute Katherine Bryan on the Intermezzo from Bizet’s Carmen.

In the dual role of vocalist and presenter was tenor Jamie MacDougall, from Dennistoun in Glasgow, bringing his remarkable versatility to the songs of Frank Lehar and others, and surely only denied a knighthood for services to festive season entertainment by some administrative error in the New Year Honours.

The pan-global discovery of the evening, however, was the young conductor, Tianyi Lu, born in Shanghai and raised in New Zealand, whose current work commitments also include a commute between Melbourne and Wales, where she completed her studies in 2015. It was not just in stature and ethnicity that Lu brought to mind the RSNO’s principal guest conductor Elim Chan, but in her precise, specific and fluid conducting style — and rapport with the audience, teaching a little Mandarin by way of introduction to the Dialogue on Flowers by composer Bao Yuankai.

The colourful orchestration of that piece was emblematic of a programme that was often a very long way indeed from the precedent of the Vienna Phil in the Musikverein on the first day of the year, but which suggested the entente cordiale the world could use a little more of in following it with the US Marine band swagger of Sousa’s Liberty Bell.