Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

Keith Bruce


THE MUSIC from the fecund first half of the 19th century that makes up so much of the standard orchestral repertoire is now firmly in the province of “period” music specialists, so the sight of a very different looking – and sounding – national orchestra on the concert hall platform is no surprise.

Nonetheless, it is remarkable quite what a change in the sound of the same players conductor Sir Roger Norrington brings about, and it goes far beyond the obvious absence of any vibrato in the strings, a discipline that some find easier than others, dependent on their school of training rather than their own age.

It is also very clear from the forces on stage, performing Robert Schumann’s Symphony No 1 with a reduced cohort of strings of just 30, but with five horns and three trombones. This is now known to be the sort of ensemble that Felix Mendelssohn directed at the work’s Leipzig premiere in 1841, and the balance gave the work vibrant new life on Saturday, from the brass fanfare of the opening to the beautifully melodic trombones/horns/flute sequence of the finale.

Mendelssohn’s own Piano Concerto No 1, which the composer himself had premiered ten years earlier, was written both as personal showpiece (and subsequently taken up by great showman Franz Liszt) and to impress a girl, and still sounds inspired. In Roman Rabinovich, artist in residence at last year’s Lammermuir Festival, it has the perfect contemporary champion, a player in his 30s who combines youthful vigour with a deep knowledge of early music rigour.

The opening calling-card for the programme was – marginally – the oldest piece, Schumann’s Overture, Scherzo and Finale. If symphonies are the ubiquitous Ford Focuses of the orchestral repertoire, this is a Fiesta, but a hot hatch. Under Norrington is was very pacey, with the central Scherzo delightfully quick indeed.