Classical review: RSNO, Glasgow

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YOU have to be careful programming in a vast barn of an acoustic like the Kelvingrove Art Gallery.



It’s no accident previous orchestral concerts here, particularly by the RSNO, have locked into the ambient minimalism of, say John Taverner or Arvo Pärt.

But Bach, unless you’re making a deliberate attempt to present him through a ghostly, disembodied haze, is not a prime candidate. So, having two of his orchestral suites – the dazzling Suite No 3 and equally quickfire Suite No 4 – as bookends to last night’s concert, was like wrapping the whole evening in soggy cotton wool.

There’s an optimum speed beyond which the notes become a mind-numbing blur, and that’s what happened here. Only the famous Air from the 3rd Suite gave the RSNO any chance to prove its Bach playing under Baroque specialist Laurence Cummings might just have genuine stylistic integrity Ironically, too, these were not conditions that favoured the music of Benjamin Britten, whose Courtly Dances from Gloriana and Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge were central to a programme commemorating his centenary.

Cummings’ physical efforts to inject crisp rhythmic edge into the Gloriana Dances simply dissipated on impact. However, he made greater headway with the Bridge Variations, whose soaring string melodies and melancholic intensity sat more sympathetically with the acoustic.

Not surprisingly, though, it was the mystical luminescence of Pärt’s Cantus in Memoriam Benjamin Britten that bore the greatest fruit, Cummings allowing its atmospheric, hypnotic simplicity to float timelessly over our heads. The other Pärt work, If Bach had kept Bees, enjoyed similar magical moments, but lacked overall conviction.

For the most part, this was a concert that belonged elsewhere.