Music review: RSNO/Martin Yates, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

The RSNO ended its weekend programme with a tempting curiosity: Vaughan Williams’ unfinished setting for soprano, chorus and orchestra of Matthew Arnold’s poem The Future, completed by the programme’s conductor Martin Yates from an incomplete manuscript piano score of around 1908, and now given its world premiere a century on.
Martin YatesMartin Yates
Martin Yates

RSNO/Martin Yates, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall ***

First impressions were that it falls musical victim to Arnold’s somewhat cumbersome poetic imagery, never quite rising to the lyrical inspiration from, say, Walt Whitman in the contemporaneous A Sea Symphony; that Yates’ orchestration – based on Vaughan Williams’ Toward the Unknown Region – massively overwhelmed many of the solo and choral passages; that the solid heft of Yates’ instrumental solutions leave little space for the distinctive subtleties of colour we readily associate with this composer.

The performance, while efficient and not without its emotional high points, struggled valiantly to make a strong case: the RSNO Chorus wholesome, if uncommonly tentative at key entries; solo soprano Ilona Domnich mostly unheard above the orchestra; the music itself never quite breaking free of its elemental repetitiveness.

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Two genuine Vaughan Williams’ riches compensated – the feverish twitchiness of The Wasps overture and a beguiling performance by RSNO leader Sharon Roffman of The Lark Ascending, her gorgeously naive opening signalling the individuality and thoughtfulness that was to follow.

In Ravel’s Pavane pour une infante défunte, Yates elicited a magically subdued warmth, but in Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite, though dutiful to the distilled clarity of this 1945 version, played safe rather than raise the temperature to boiling point. Ken Walton