Glasgow Royal Concert Hall
As well as soloist Rachel Barton Pine and guest conductor Kristiina Poska (already well known across Scotland through her work with the SCO), the other star of this programme was the first clarinet – not the RSNO’s principal player Timothy Orpen on this occasion, but Yann Ghiro, on loan from the BBC SSO.
The sotto voce opening of Copland’s Appalachian Spring, played with great sensitivity by Ghiro, was just the first of a series of solos across the evening, and it set the tone for what was a superb performance of the work in which its quietest moments were the most exquisite. Too often performed in an expansive, Hollywood soundtrack style, this ballet suite is much subtler than that and Poska was meticulous in her approach, as if applying rigorous early music practice to this mid-20th century masterpiece.
Her strict-time left hand baton is a distinctive tool in her armoury, and that precision was reflected in the response of the orchestra, with principal trombone Davur Juul Magnussen’s entry later in the work also beautifully measured.
By contrast, Florence Price’s Violin Concerto No2 is often clearly redolent of the Golden Age of Hollywood and film scores at their most appealing and decorative – and quite “old school” for the era of its composition (early 1950s). Under a quartet of an hour long, it is not a big work, and much of the interest in it is due to the difficult tale of how it has come down to us now. Barton Pine’s championing of the work has included partnership with the RSNO on a new recording, and she ceded the limelight in much of this performance, while quietly dispatching the most virtuosic elements. At points it was the brass underscore that proved the most compelling ingredient, and Ghiro popped up again to contribute tellingly to the closing bars.
Arguably more memorable of the soloist’s contribution to the evening was her encore – inspired by her participation in a traditional music session after the previous night’s Edinburgh concert – of Mark O’Connor’s Caprice No 1, a glorious mash-up of Bach and Appalachian fiddle.
The RSNO’s guest first clarinet was in the spotlight once more for the improvisatory beginning of the First Symphony of Sibelius, a brooding solo that is actually statement of a theme that recurs throughout the work. This was more or less home turf for the Estonian conductor, and her precision was again crucial. The front desks had their feature moments but it was the rhythmic pulse of the low strings that was most impressive.
There is something cinematic about the symphony’s slow second movement, but from the swing of the Scherzo through the rich orchestration of the Finale to the distinctive ending, it becomes a crash course in the unique compositional language that Sibelius enthusiasts love in his later works.
The RSNO, of course, has a distinguished history in the performance of Sibelius, from nearly a century ago and through the era of conductor Sir Alexander Gibson. In Kristiina Poska the orchestra has found another fine partner for his music.
Picture of Rachel Barton Pine at Usher Hall, Edinburgh by Leighanne Evelyn