Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

Keith Bruce

four stars

WITH every appearance she makes on the podium, it is clear that the RSNO was very smart to sign up Hong Kong-born conductor Elim Chan as Principal Guest Conductor on the basis of her two concerts, stepping into the breach at short notice, at the start of 2017.

When an orchestra and a stickperson find an immediate rapport, it is always apparent, and in Chan’s case that skill applies to the RSNO faithful in the auditorium as well. Endless Forms, a short work by her countryman Fung Lam, which opened her last appearance in her new role for this season, is not a difficult work, but the conductor made hearing it for the first time even easier with her lucid introduction. Premiered at the London Proms seven years ago, it had some fine music for the strings, particularly the cellos (the composer’s own instrument), and a lovely little flourish for clarinet, played by Jean Johnson, drafted into the orchestra for this one short work alone.

Music writers tend to obsess about the opaque dedications attached to the 15 sections of Elgar’s Enigma Variations, but audiences are less interested in what was ultimately an astute marketing gimmick. If the half hour did not flow as an entire work, we’d hear it a great deal less. In some respects it is, however, a technical exercise as a composition, and Chan was all over every detail of it, cueing players meticulously. This Nimrod had the pulse some bloodless performances can lack and the parallel writing for winds and strings, before the shiny instruments make their entrance, has never shone so brightly. Both violist Tom Dunn and cellist Betsy Taylor were on sparkling form in their solos as well.

Young American Benjamin Beilman gave a barn-storming performance of the Sibelius Violin Concerto, and Chan was very particular there too, deploying her baton selectively, and appreciating the pastoral character of the slow second movement before the call to arms in the dynamic finale. The soloist could have used some of that subtlety and perspective – and perhaps a little less heavy vibrato.