City Halls, Glasgow

Keith Bruce

four stars

AT risk of seeming superficial, the last concert by Elim Chan as Principal Guest Conductor of the RSNO will be remembered by many for her stunning concert dress – as elegant an answer to the question of what women conductors should wear on the podium as many will have seen.

The other distinguishing characteristic of the event was that the orchestra is currently displaced from its usual home at Glasgow Royal Concert Hall for that venue’s renovations, and this programme was clearly not conceived with the smaller hall in mind.

This orchestra has long overcome its old difficulty of a brass section that tended to overstate its presence, but there were moments during Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony that brought that era to mind.

Although it was a much smaller orchestra that surrounded pianist Steven Osborne for Mozart’s Piano Concerto No 12, it could perhaps have been further reduced to achieve a perfect balance in the City Hall.

Even before that, the excellent opener of the programme, Anna Clyne’s This Midnight Hour, really needed more space for its superb orchestration, complete with carefully-placed stereo trumpets, to be appreciated properly.

That said, there was no problem with the clarity of all the audible ingredients in the Clyne, or the way Chan shaped the musical narrative of the piece, which becomes progressively more melodic over its 12 minutes.

Steven Osborne is probably most admired for his playing of 20th century repertoire, and might be a less obvious first choice for Mozart. After a slightly austere opening movement, however, the exquisite playing of the Andante made a most persuasive case for revising that opinion. His admonishing of someone at the front of the hall for use of their mobile phone clearly did not disturb his mood, and we were treated to some Gershwin a la Bill Evans by way of an encore.

Perhaps the ambivalent ending of the Tchaikovsky – is its triumphant note genuine? – was an imperfect choice for Chan’s farewell, but there is no doubt that the RSNO players dug deep to give her the best memories of its performance.

Timothy Orpen’s chalumeau-register clarinet opening sounded gorgeous in this acoustic, as did guest first horn Diana Sheach’s solo at the start of the slow movement. And even if the conclusion of the finale is ambiguous, it remains a huge bold, major chord climax.