Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

Keith Bruce

Five stars


With Nicola Benedetti, Benjamin Grosvenor, and Sheku Kanneh-Mason the soloists, and the RSNO’s Music Director Thomas Sondergard on the podium, my habitual four stars were almost guaranteed. The fifth above is for the Conductor/Director of the RSNO Youth Chorus, Patrick Barrett, in richly deserved recognition of the highlight of a star-spangled gala evening.

In what was a genius piece of programming, the first half performance of Beethoven’s Triple Concerto, that would unite the Decca recording artists and violin, piano and cello alumni of the BBC Young Musician awards with Scotland’s national orchestra, was preceded by three pieces from the young singers, with instrumental accompaniment by each of the soloists in turn.

No disrespect to Beethoven and Brahms, whose First Symphony was played after the interval, but the concert’s first half-hour made the evening’s most profound impression.

Introduced with confident poise and clarity by chorus member Rosie Wallbanks, the choir’s programme began with the most recent piece, Errollyn Wallen’s Inherit the World, composed for the UN’s COP26 conference in Glasgow in 2021. Its simple message to global government from the next generation, with Grosvenor at the piano, was followed by Russell Hepplewhite’s equally resonant The Death of Robin Hood, setting Victorian poet Eugene Field, and full of environmental imagery. Accompanied by Kanneh-Mason’s virtuosic cello part, the ensemble singing was a masterclass in perfect diction, with lovely step-out solos as well.

But if those pieces were superb, the junior choir’s performance of Caroline Shaw’s Its Motion Keeps, a contemporary re-working of the first verse of a 19th century American shape-note hymn was sensational. Here was hugely-demanding multi-voiced vocalising, full of challenging dynamics and harmonies, quite beautifully executed. It asked rather less of the violinist accompanying the choir, but having Nicola Benedetti playing the pizzicato continuo was the icing on the cake.

The expensive requirement for three soloists is the obvious reason why the Beethoven Triple is so rarely heard, but once you’ve bitten the bullet on that, you may as well have 50 string players, even if the work only asks for chamber winds. This is the younger Beethoven at his most fun, and everyone onstage was clearly relishing it, the three star soloists trading bars of music like bebop jazzers. The encore bonus was a trio version of violinist Fritz Kreisler’s arrangement of Londonderry Air.

That big-boned string sound returned in the second half for the Brahms, Sondergard making a compelling case for full symphonic forces for the composer’s long-laboured-over work. Orchestra leader Maya Iwabuchi had her own step-out solo here, and there was great work from the wind principals, especially first oboe Adrian Wilson.