RSNO / Chan
City Halls, Glasgow
YOU have to have been a follower of Scotland’s national orchestra for a great many years to recall the RSNO’s last run of concerts at the City Halls, the current return there necessitated by Glasgow City Council’s rather unexpected finding of funds for the refurbishment of the Royal Concert Hall.
Had the RSNO management known that was coming, the season’s programme may have been shaped differently. However, it transpired that the last concert conducted by Hong Kong’s diminutive and much-loved Elim Chan as the orchestra’s Principal Guest Conductor was transplanted to the Merchant City, while the same programme – a big colourful opener by Anna Clyne, a Mozart concerto with pianist Steven Osborne, and Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony – would surely have sold out the larger hall.
A quart in a pint pot it may have been, but Chan’s last hurrah was an evening crammed with delights. Clyne’s This Midnight Hour has nothing to do with either Thelonious Monk or Wilson Pickett but rather the imagery of Jiménez and Baudelaire in their musical poetry, and the specific character of the strings in a contemporary French orchestra. The RSNO strings, especially the violas, had some tricky stuff to play, but the conductor clearly relished the huge palette of colours that Clyne, characteristically, calls for. The composer is an orchestrator par excellence, and the details in the percussion parts and specific deployment of the trumpets make for a terrific fun piece.
Mozart’s Piano Concerto No 12 is the middle one of three he wrote for the Viennese market when the newly-wed composer settled there in the 1780s. There is a tribute to the recently-deceased Johann Christian Bach, the “London” Bach, whom Mozart had met as a child, in the central slow movement and that was the focus of Osborne’s reading of the work, which was quite firm and precise in its outer sections, and intensely emotional, and a long way from languid, in the middle.
There was a much smaller RSNO on stage, but the pianist’s spare approach to the music might have been reflected in further reduction in the string numbers, particularly in a hall of this size and for a work its composer undoubtedly saw as chamber music.
Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No 5, on the other hand, was intended to be a work of scale, even if Tchaikovsky was plagued by self-doubt at the time. Although it ends with a huge resounding rebuttal of its “Fate” motif – first heard in first clarinet Timothy Orpen’s lower register statement at the start – most modern listeners have found that bold finish unconvincing, a judgement perhaps coloured by the “Pathetique” Sixth Symphony that followed. Chan seemed to take the work more at face value, and the orchestra players – not excepting the guest principals in key positions – gave her big, generous performances in return.
There was a small presentation to the conductor by leader Maya Iwabuchi at the start of the concert, and Chan had dressed very stylishly for the occasion. As popular with audiences as she clearly was with the musicians, she will be much missed as her career focuses increasingly on the US as well as continental Europe.