RSNO / Bringuier

Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

Here was Tchaikovsky that even Pierre Boulez – famously antipathetic to the works of the Russian composer – might have had time for. And the music was in the hands of another French conductor, Lionel Bringuier.

Bringuier stepped in at short notice last week to replace Norwegian Tabita Berglund for the RSNO’s scheduled programme, with American rising star Randall Goosby playing Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, followed by the Sixth – and last – Symphony, the “Pathetique”. This is music that it is too easy to wallow in, but the shared approach of Bringuier and Goosby, working together for the first time, was always crisp and precise, whether that was in the dynamic shifts in the opening movement of the symphony or in the impressively fast and clear solo line of the concerto’s “vivacissimo” Finale.

Goosby, just 27 and still completing his studies at Juilliard, is an astonishing player, with a clarity of tone and technical ability that impresses from the start. Perhaps his first movement cadenza was easier to admire than to warm to, but the distance from the emotional excesses players can bring to the work was always refreshing, as was his constant engagement with the orchestra and attention to Bringuier’s direction.

That meant the concerto was of a piece with the symphony, giving the audience – although there were more empty seats than might have been expected for this programme – an opportunity to assess the acoustic effect of the recent refurbishment of the hall. Not only are the new seats more comfortable, it does seem that there is better projection of the sound from the stage, although some of that impression may well be down to the approach of these musicians in particular.

The third movement of the Pathetique is Tchaikovsky at his very best, and every note was immaculately realised in this interpretation, as was the transition to the sombre last movement which so often tricks unwary listeners into premature applause. Its low register sonority also sounded enhanced by the venue’s makeover.

We will probably never know what Berglund would have made of her 20th century countryman David Monrad Johansen’s Pan, which opened the concert, but Bringuier deserves plaudits for sticking with the advertised programme. Although it becomes dramatic enough, and – as anyone might have guessed from the title – featured fine solo playing from principal flute Katherine Bryan, it is an unremarkable work, far outshone by the music that followed.

Keith Bruce