This week’s RSNO programme was never as intended, with both the original pianist and conductor absent.
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But the replacements were an intriguing pairing – veteran Irish pianist Barry Douglas and the unknown German conductor Christoph Altstaedt. The programme remained as published.
First to Altstaedt, making his British debut. What are we to make of the 32-year-old, who, in this Glasgow performance, nearly took a tumble in the finale of Dvorak’s Eighth Symphony as he overstepped the perimeter of his rostrum, almost ending up on the lap of leader James Clark? Thankfully he recovered his dignity well, resuming what was a detailed, sinuous and engaging reading of the symphony, in which the string sound was ripe and radiant, but which was let down by matters of balance and accuracy in the brass and wind.
When it came to matching Barry Douglas’s wholly rugged and masculine reading of Schumann’s Piano Concerto, Altstaedt didn’t appear to be of a similar mind. The accompaniment of the opening movement was limpid, and, throughout the concerto, seldom in absolute sync with Douglas’s unflinching pace, other than a brief coming together of minds in the neat, sweet central Intermezzo.
Altstaedt was at his most impressive unravelling the strange but accessible language of Russian-born Victoria Borisova-Ollas’s Open Ground, a score inspired by a Salman Rushdie novel, narrative in form, evocative in spirit and fuelled by richly varied musical nuances.