How do you make an orchestra that sounded top class in Aix-en-Provence last week sound like a third-rate cousin a week later?
RSNO: The Nutcracker - Glasgow Royal Concert Hall
The answer last night lay literally in the hands of conductor Alexander Shelley. Whatever his inflexible beat conveyed to the orchestra, and however he communicated his thoughts during rehearsals, the outcome in this RSNO all-Russian programme was at best routine, at worst dire.
There were basic problems to sort out – the simple matter of not starting the orchestra together, which ruined the inbuilt balletic precision of Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker (Act II); issues of imbalance that, in both the Tchaikovsky and Glazunov’s Winter from The Seasons, unhinged the beautiful colorations of these ballet scores; and the ability to follow a soloist, which Shelley struggled to do in Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No 1.
With the fiery, gung-ho young French pianist Lise de la Salle in the driving seat for the Rachmaninov, there was no margin for error. She established a hot sense of danger in the flamboyant spontaneity of her opening flourish, which should have sparked a bristling response from Shelley and the orchestra. Instead, it was sluggish and counteractive, almost disastrous in the lead up to the cadenza, despite de la Salle’s powerful insistence.
Sure, there were sunny moments in the Glazunov and Tchaikovsky where the music’s indestructibility saved the day. But never enough to suggest this conductor really felt the music’s ebb and flow in his bones.