Music review: RSNO, Patrick Hahn & Karen Cargill, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

Unfazed by a heavy-duty programme, young Austrian conductor Patrick Hahn led the RSNO with an instinctive confidence, writes Ken Walton

RSNO, Patrick Hahn & Karen Cargill, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall *****

He’s only 27, but conducts with the instinctive confidence and zeal of a seasoned maestro. Patrick Hahn was never supposed to be debuting with the RSNO this weekend, but a last-minute, if unsurprising, call-off from the orchestra’s Moscow-based conductor emeritus Alexander Lazarev put the young Austrian in charge of a mostly mighty programme right out of the Lazarev playbook.

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Hahn seemed born to the task. Nothing spoke more clearly of that than the luxurious, penetrating response he triggered from the RSNO as he set in motion the opening three movements from Khachaturian’s Spartacus. The Dance of the Crotalums was a feast of Spanish-flavoured exoticism, rhythmically intoxicating, later taken to dizzier heights in the concluding Variation of Aegina and Bachanalia. In between, the famous Onedin Line theme surfaced in its fuller context of the central Adagio of Sparticus and Phrygia, its rhapsodic expansiveness exploited to the full.

Patrick Hahn PIC: Kow Iida
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The other end of the evening called for even greater trenchancy, Tchaikovsky’s manifestation of fate expressed in the torrid language of his Fourth Symphony. Again, Hahn had the full measure of its broad architecture. It was visionary, a broadly-perceived tour de force cast in mountainous proportions; but it was also a triumph of minutiae, Tchaikovsky’s swirling tonal shades and volcanic nuancing captured stunningly.

Such a heavy-duty pairing required a moment’s respite, which a recent chamber orchestration by James MacMillan of his Three Scottish Songs (premiered earlier this year) perfectly provided. These are gorgeously intimate settings of poems by William Soutar, the originally sparse piano accompaniments now transformed into pristine expressions of spectral transparency, lucid and explicit, which soloist Karen Cargill’s golden mezzo voice beautifully matched.