RSNO Centre, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

Keith Bruce

four stars

GLOBALLY-successful Scottish composer Craig Armstrong has been well served by the RSNO in recent times, his work featuring in the Scotch Snaps strand of season concerts as well as in programmes of film music.

Wednesday’s afternoon performance in the orchestra’s rehearsal home had both sides of his catalogue, the Balcony Scene from his score for Baz Luhrmann’s film Romeo + Juliet followed by his Slow Movement for String Orchestra, written for the Scottish Ensemble two years earlier, and the calling card that landed him the job of writing that soundtrack.

With the RSNO strings sounding sumptuous in the venue, the pairing was a fine reminder of how Armstrong’s signature style began, as he moved from writing for the Tron theatre and providing string arrangements for pop artists to scores for the big screen.

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Italian composer Luigi Denza, who died in London in 1922 after being a professor at the Royal Academy of Music for the latter part of his life, is remembered for two things: his judgement on the singing of novelist James Joyce at the 1904 Dublin Feis Ceoil, shortly before the writer left his homeland forever, and for writing, a quarter of a century earlier, the comic song in celebration a new railway to the summit of Vesuvius, Funiculi Funicula, beloved by generations of operatic tenors.

It must have been enormously popular when Richard Strauss visited Italy as a young man in 1886, because the composer assumed it was a Neapolitan folk song and used the tune in the final movement of his early tone poem Aus Italien (From Italy).

In a subsequent court case foreshadowing the litigation of today’s pop world over copyright, sampling and intellectual property, Denza sued, and Strauss had to pay him royalties from performances of the piece.

HeraldScotland: Craig ArmstrongCraig Armstrong (Image: free)

The RSNO’s former assistant conductor Junping Qian has been determined to direct the work since he heard it played by Ricardo Muti and the Berlin Phil, and was clearly delighted that Scotland had given him that opportunity.

Using music from the orchestra’s library that looked as if it might well have come from the 1903 Scottish premiere of the work, which Strauss himself conducted, the musicians did him proud with a colourful interpretation of the young tourist’s awed reaction to the ruins of ancient Rome, and especially in his impressionistic picture of the coastline at Sorrento.