Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

Keith Bruce

four stars

A RARITY like Richard Strauss’s Burleske for Piano and Orchestra sits easily in the repertoire of adventurous pianist Kirill Gerstein, who has straddled the spheres of jazz and classical music and whose latest Gershwin-and-associates recording includes appearances by vibraphonist Gary Burton and sometime Pink Martini vocalist Storm Large. While there is plenty for the soloist to remember and exploit in this early work, the scoring for the orchestra is noticeably spare from a young composer. The piano’s main conversation is with the timpanist who opens the music, and that began a whole evening in which the RSNO’s newest recruit, Paul Philbert, was never long out of the spotlight.

If Burleske is also very tuneful – did I hear the germ of the opening of Bernstein’s Somewhere from West Side Story in there? – it contrasted with his suite from Der Rosenkavalier in that the 80-year-old Strauss throws everything into the mix from the start. Derived from the opera to usurp less sensitive concert sequences of the music it may have been, but its careful construction makes it kin to the composer’s tone poems. The big stuff was great, but conductor Thomas Sondergard also brought a lovely delicacy to the dynamics of the waltzes.

Philbert was also to the fore at the start of the First Symphony of Johannes Brahms, in a performance that also include some beautiful solo playing by the orchestra’s recently appointed co-leader Sharon Roffmann in the slow second movement and guest principal clarinet Maura Marinucci in the third. Having been immersed in Robin Ticciati’s new recording of the Brahms Symphonies with the SCO recently, understandably the RSNO’s fuller sound seemed more ponderous in the opening movement. In fact Sondergard dispatched the entire work in almost exactly the same time frame, and there was certainly no lingering over the glorious theme of the finale when it swept into the strings.