Glasgow Royal Concert Hall
Like This Midnight Hour, which the RSNO played in March under Elim Chan, composer Anna Clyne’s Stride, co-commissioned by the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, is a cracking concert opener.
The pianist Steven Osborne has said – and demonstrated – that Beethoven pre-figured jazz piano in his late sonatas and Stride, although its musical material draws on an earlier one, the famous No 8 “Pathetique”, bolsters the argument by having the string basses emulate the walking left hand of the piano style in the title.
The work began a programme that ended with Dvorak’s Symphony No 8, given a performance of crystalline clarity under German conductor Anja Bihlmaier, making her debut with the orchestra. There was a lightness of touch to her approach to the music that paralleled her precision, so that the opening movement was a dance through the Bohemian countryside that brought to mind the Viennese Strausses, even before the third movement waltz.
It and the Allegro finale have tunes that are up with the composer’s best, and Bihlmaier was clear exactly when a little more oomph was needed, noticeably reining back the RSNO brass after the fanfare opening of the latter. Perhaps a little more leeway might have been allowed to the players in the joyous conclusion, but that’s a marginal call.
The conductor – elegantly clad in a sharply-cut teal tails suit – was also a most attentive partner to soloist Nelson Goerner in Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto, the magnificent highlight of a fine evening. His first chord, so deliberately softly struck, set the tone for a considered reappraisal of the work that eschewed all the flashy showmanship it often comes with.
While no less virtuosic, Goerner played the piece as if the ink was still wet on the page, rather than as the old war horse it can be, and Bihlmaier was always sensitive to his interpretation. Soloist and conductor maintained a brisk Moderato in the opening movement and RSNO first flute Katherine Bryan and principal clarinet Timothy Orpen were measured duet partners in the big tune of the slow movement. The yearning cadences of the music were never in danger of mawkishness.
Bihlmaier’s guidance of the transition into the finale was masterful and there was a real feel of common cause across the platform all the way to the final bar. It may also have been one of the quieter Rach 2s many of us had heard, and was none the worse for that.