Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

Rosie Davies

Three stars

It was Elgar himself who gave away the trick to his first symphony: "There is no programme beyond a wide experience of human life with a great charity and a massive hope in the future". That hope, as important now as it was at the turn of the 20th-century when the piece was written, is distilled into the final couple of minutes, and any truly cohesive performance of this appealing yet sophisticated work relies on how convincing they are. It’s a slight shame for guest conductor Karl-Heinz Steffens, making his debut with the RSNO, that the final movement seems to lose its way a little considering the thoughtful expression that shaped the preceding three, but there’s so much good on the journey - the first movement particularly spacious and sophisticated, and the Adagio meltingly tender - that it was easily forgiven. No “massive hope”, perhaps, but certainly assurance - and a confident, knowing presentation of the beauty of Elgar’s orchestral writing.

Some of this quiet understatement might have served the orchestral support a little better in Schumann’s Cello Concerto, which preceded it. With his flighty, skittish aura, it seemed as if Andrei Ioni?? - a BBC New Generation artist for 2016-18 - was directly channelling the delicate mania embedded in Schumann’s solo voice, switching between its flitting moods with real emotion. The accompaniment was just a touch too loud, too intrusive for his poetic subtlety.