RSNO, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

Michael Tumelty

four stars

THERE'S an intriguing question to be raised about the RSNO's concert of American music on Saturday night with director Peter Oundjian at the helm. But let's leave it just now and deal with the concert, in my view one of Oundjian's best, with the band hot-blooded and at full pelt.

The programme was terrific. Why? And that's an important question in relation to the paragraph above. Best-known piece of the night was Gershwin's An American in Paris, an icon of musical Americana, delivered by Oundjian and the RSNO with a tidier, more-symphonic, less-ramshackle structure than is often the case, reminding this listener of the sheer quality of the composition and orchestration, which retains Gershwin's panache and flair: it's a great composition, full stop.

John Adams' Tromba Lontana, opening the night, proved a routine piece of minimalism by Adams' own standards; but Bernstein's Serenade after Plato's Symposium, a night on the tiles with a bunch of drunken, verbose philosophers, is a stunner, effectively a violin concerto, gloriously-played on Saturday by Robert McDuffie, who characterised the music wonderfully, from its contemplative and lyrical elements to its mercurial magic and tender beauty, and ultimately to its riotous conclusion, straight out of West Side Story.

And what a masterpiece is Samuel Barber's rarely-played First Symphony, lovingly-performed by Oundjian and the orchestra, with immense structural confidence in its unbroken span and an intensity that was genuinely Sibelian in its sense of organic growth. A superb concert. And the question? Where was the big audience? Why was the place not heaving? I was shocked; so were many regulars. There are numerous perspectives to consider, and I'll do that soon.