Classical review: Royal Scottish National Orchestra - Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

This was never a programme likely to run smoothly from the stage management perspective. With a Debussy orchestral work opening each half, followed in both cases by a Shostakovich piano concerto, it was a constant case of piano-off, piano-on.

But as Stéphene Denève explained in his customary audience welcome (they even shout “bon soir” to his trademark “good evening”) there was method in his madness. Both Debussy’s Printemps and Shostakovich’s First Concerto were written when the composers were in their mid-20s; while the second half coupling of Debussy’s Jeux with the second Shostakovich concerto were products of their reaching 50.

Thus the pre-Impressionist Wagnerism of Printemps was like an assuring hand warmer to the raw sardonic parodies in the early Shostakovich concerto, while Jeux’s ecstatic extremes served as a vital sensitised springboard to the biting maturity and darker undertones of the later concerto.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Stephen Osborne, often glancing wry smirks at the orchestra behind him, performed both concertos with supreme authority, parrying mischievously with solo trumpeter John Gracie in the First, while in the Second, whipping up the storm of irreverence that is Shostakovich’s boisterous response to the beguiling nostalgia of the heavenly Andante.

Of the two Debussy works, the poetic ballet Jeux was the more satisfying. Performed with surtitles – a helpful guide to its erotic scenario – its impatient energy was captivating, the shifting colours a sensual delight. Denève’s Printemps was medium voltage, though, its final “burst of joy” seeming more like modified rapture.

Rating: ****