Music review: The RSNO & Peter Oundjian, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

I'm guessing it was a dedicated labour of love for Yale musicologist Paul Haukshaw to undertake the arduous task of revising Bruckner's epic Symphony No8, basing his version on original 1887 manuscripts, therefore undoing the various revisions that Bruckner himself, and later Leopold Nowak, made to the original.
Peter OundjianPeter Oundjian
Peter Oundjian

The RSNO & Peter Oundjian, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall ***

Haukshaw’s edition, unveiled in a Yale performance last year, was presented to us over the weekend by the RSNO under its music director Peter Oundjian. There are noticeable differences from the version we are used to, but by and large the skeletal chunks – those hefty, power-driven granite-like motifs or, as in the central Adagio, those moments of timeless, ethereal bliss – remain unchanged in content and context.

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The trouble with this performance was that it lived only for moments. In the course of Oundjian’s 80-minute discourse I found myself enthralled for short periods – the exultant culmination of the Scherzo, the dense sonorities of the start and finish of the Adagio, the final fiery exhilaration of the entire symphony, to name a few – but equally felt let down by long tracts of dullness and lack of joined-up thought.

Oundjian has a habit of concentrating on the day-to-day management of the beat, rather than standing back, gesturing the big picture and leaving the musicians to respond instinctively. That’s what this performance needed.

In the opening half, pianist Christian Blackshaw’s crisp, clean playing of Mozart’s Piano Concerto K503 was a refreshing preface to the thick-set Bruckner.