Pearce Institute, Govan
The title conductor Paul MacAlindin chose for The Glasgow Barons season of filmed concerts for the Covid era, Pandemonium, might better suit the other work Tchaikovsky wrote in 1880, The 1812 Overture, with its booming canons celebrating Russian resistance to Napoleon. The composer, however, thought that a worthless piece of hackwork and was dismayed by its popularity, while the Serenade for Strings, a suite of four movements of meticulous construction that falls, purposely, just shy of being symphonic, was a labour of love of which he was very proud.
His ideal ensemble to perform it would probably be rather larger than the one MacAlindin has around him in this performance, but the conductor draws the fullest sound from his socially-distanced players, many of them – although by no means all – familiar faces from Scotland’s top-notch youth orchestras and the back desks of our professional bands. MacAlindin keeps a very precise beat at all times and this is a very crisp performance that underlines the inspiration of Mozart and earlier baroque music in the score.
That purpose of the composer is especially evident in the opening and closing movements, and the final bars of both here brought to mind the “old style” of Edvard Grieg’s almost contemporary Holberg Suite. The Waltz and Elegy in between, however, are prime Tchaikovsky, the tune of the former as fine as anything in his first ballet score, Swan Lake, from a few years earlier.
The Elegy is no less melodious and altogether more complex, and is particularly beautifully paced here. Special credit should go to the single double bass of Stirling’s Daniel Griffin, carrying the root of the movement through all the variations of key and dynamics around him.
That light and shade is also enhanced by the acoustic of the Macleod Hall, which is the orchestra’s home in Govan’s Pearce Institute. The showcase it is having in this series is a nice counterpart to the more lavish profile other Glasgow venues are enjoying through online Celtic Connections concerts.
The big noise of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture might have more in common with work at the John Elder (soon to be re-named Fairfield) shipyard that Sir William Pearce had taken to the peak of its international reputation in 1880, but the Serenade for Strings is a more fitting memorial to the pioneering businessman who would be dead at 55 before the end of the decade, and memorialised in the name of the community building at the start of the new century.
Watch the concert via Vimeo at glasgowbarons.com