Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

Keith Bruce

four stars

OF all the big works that music director Peter Oundjian has chosen to conduct in his final season with Scotland’s national symphony orchestra, the epic Eighth Symphony of Anton Bruckner is probably the least marketable, as the number of empty seats on Saturday night testified. We await the sort of enthusiasm for the widescreen visions and grand architecture of the devout Austrian that is now commonplace for the symphonies of Mahler.

Bruckner’s last completed symphony may date from 1887, but it was not heard in the UK until 40 years later, and Oundjian was here giving the first performance of the latest restoration of the original score, by Yale scholar Paul Hawkshaw. The full Wagnerian scale of the work was revealed in all its detail, although the overall arc of the piece still seems a little problematic. When the finale finally arrived, however, it was difficult to imagine it being better realised than by the brass and horns of the RSNO here. As the orchestra’s assistant conductor Holly Mathieson observed on social media during rehearsals, this big stuff is what this orchestra is built for.

Just the same, it can turn its hand to the more intimate fare of a Mozart piano concerto with equal style, even if the C Major No 25 seemed an odd choice of supporting feature, and was possibly heard to best advantage in Perth Concert Hall two days earlier. Soloist Christian Blackshaw took no rhythmic liberties whatsoever in a piece full of temptations to linger over some of its lovely melodic phrases and still made memorable even the most fleeting of them – like the brief flirtation with oboe and flute in the third movement that would qualify as a hooky “middle eight” in a pop song and ensure its hit status.