Glasgow Royal Concert Hall
Keith Bruce
three stars
OVER the weekend, footage shared on social media showed an orchestra in the Philharmonie de Paris playing Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring without a conductor, a remarkable feat that should probably worry conductors. Meaning no particular disrespect to City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra stalwart Michael Seal, the thought occurred that much of this Valentine’s programme of popular classics might have sounded just as good without the stickman on the podium, the RSNO having convincingly performed conductor-less Beethoven last year.
That might have been especially so for the somewhat lacklustre selections from Bizet’s Carmen that opened the programme and Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture which began the second half. And, although it was not actually noticeably longer than it should be, Seal and soloist Florian Mitrea did seem to wallow in some of the slower music of Grieg’s Piano Concerto. This was Mitrea’s first appearance with the orchestra since they played Beethoven together for the 2017 Scottish International Piano Competition, when he was runner-up, and the slow movement, with one of the evening’s fine solo contributions from horn Martin Murphy, did nicely mirror the performance of Mahler’s Adagietto, from the Fifth Symphony, after the break.
Its stately progress and the rigorous rhythms of Ravel’s Bolero, which followed and concluded the concert, would perhaps have been trickiest for an un-conducted orchestra to pull off, and the contrast between them also raised interesting — and slightly suggestive — questions about the narrative of this Classic FM-endorsed selection of music for February 14. Be that as it may, there were star turns all through the playing of the Bolero, notably the saxophones of Andrew Somerville and Karen Dufour and first trombone Davur Juul Magnussen.
The other work in this mixed bag was the Adagio from Spartacus, one of Khachaturian’s three classical pops perennials, and still forever associated with BBC drama The Onedin Line, regardless of the fact that it is now fully four decades since that show was on television.