Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

Keith Bruce


IN a thoughtful piece of early-season programming, music director Thomas Sondergard’s fine account of Shostakovich’s Ninth Symphony will be followed next week by Principal Guest Conductor Elim Chan directing the Tenth. In other respects, however, Saturday’s concert was an odd mix. The Ninth is as mysterious as any of the composer’s works, banned by Stalin for not being the sort of celebration of victory in the Second World War he wanted to hear, but as ebullient in its opening movement as anything Shostakovich wrote. Leaving aside the context of its composition, it is music that is very easy to like, and featured some lovely solo playing here, particularly from Lena Zeliszewska in the leader’s chair, first bassoon David Hubbard and guest principal clarinet and flute, Timothy Orpen and Matthew Featherstone.

In a reversal of usual practice, the evening’s concerto followed the interval, as Ukrainian Vadym Kholodenko, internationally acclaimed in his early 30s, made his RSNO debut with Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 3. For much of its 45 minute duration, it was the showcase for the soloist that the composer first designed for his debut US tour, but equally striking were the orchestral openings to the first and second movements. The oceanic ebb and flow of the music was beautifully measured by Sondergard, and a little less dominance by the piano in the balance of the performance might have been no bad thing, regardless of the finesse in Kholodenko’s playing.

For the rest of the evening, however, it was very clear how Sondergard now has the measure of the acoustic in the RSNO’s home venue, with playing of precision and clarity across all sections. That was just as true for the opening work, Arnold Bax’s tone poem In the Faery Hills, which is exactly contemporary with the Rachmaninov but could hardly be more different. Orpen, Hubbard and Zeliszewska were to the fore here too, alongside principal viola Tom Dunn. Lavishly orchestrated folk whimsy that it is, it had little in common with the rest of the programme but was as eloquent an illustration of the fruitful relationship between this conductor and his musicians as everything that was to come.