RSNO Berglund/Giltburg

RSNO Centre, Glasgow

With Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto, we’re not in the 18th century anymore, Toto. This is both literally true – the composer began it in 1800 and it was first performed in 1803 – and in terms of the development of music. Although the piano concertos on either side may be considered in pairs, the Third is less a transitional work than the start of the revolution (to borrow the word the RSNO used for its Beethoven 250 strand) that found symphonic form in the Eroica.

The RSNO has its ideal partner for it in the dynamic and intelligent soloist with whom they have recorded Rachmaninov, Boris Giltburg, and the conductor was also to have been the same – Carlos Miguel Prieto. When he was unable to travel as a result of the current restrictions, the orchestra turned to a young Norwegian, Tabita Berglund, who only completed her Masters in orchestral conducting last year.

The reason may be very 2020, and another headache for orchestra managers to deal with, but such last minute replacements are by no means unusual, and this concert may have been the point where this “digital” season stepped up to take its place alongside the pantheon of “live” RSNO programmes – because it will be the one where we first met Berglund.

Not only was this her debut with the RSNO, it was the first time she had conducted the Beethoven concerto, and although she deferred to her soloist in her introductory remarks, there was nothing reserved in her clear, expansive, but detailed, style. In those same remarks she memorably described the work as “neither fish not bird” but she had the shape of the piece very clearly defined, and – although the start of the finale is the home of its big tune – the central Largo pinned as probably the composer’s most beautiful writing for piano and orchestra. This team performed it exquisitely.

After a very generous “encore” of the last movement of Beethoven’s Sonata No.30 (presumably coming soon in Giltburg’s recordings for Naxos), the programme moved to more familiar ground for young Berglund. Crucially, however, if Sibelius 7 is music she knows intimately, it is also, thanks to Alexander Gibson, in the blood of the RSNO. This change of programme was a real bonus that would surely have been cheered to the rafters had audiences been able to hear it. Berglund’s understanding of how the orchestra was this composer’s instrument, and this work the pinnacle of that relationship, was palpable from the start.

With the three trombones providing the crucial supporting architecture of the flow of Sibelius’s precise use of the forces at his disposal, this was big music for these diminished times, powerful and full of emotion. 

Once again, the RSNO’s online presentation, directed here by Jack Hunter, and with crucial vocal contributions from the players, was first class. There were some beautifully placed fixed cameras for the concerto, and the balance, while unlike anything a ticket-holder would hear anywhere in the Usher or Glasgow Royal Concert Halls, was also quite vibrantly distinct from anything you might expect of a studio recording.
Keith Bruce

Image: Tabita Berglund conducts the RSNO at the RSNO Centre, Glasgow