Classical review: BBC SSO, City Halls, Glasgow

City Halls, home to the BBC SSO. Picture: Donald MacLeod
City Halls, home to the BBC SSO. Picture: Donald MacLeod
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Haydn, Mozart and a splash of the French Baroque are not typical areas of repertoire for the BBC SSO, but plenty refreshing moments in Thursday’s programme validated the decision to go for it.

BBC SSO | Rating *** | City Halls, Glasgow

It required a change in game plan for an orchestra more used to the opulence of later music, evident in a scaled-down string section that embraced the required style – clean, gutsy playing from front desk to back that gave buoyancy and precision, in particular to Haydn’s Symphony No 100 (the Military), which oozed wit, theatre and charisma.

The latter qualities go without saying when Nicholas McGegan directs. He’s an adolescent in an old head, leaping with enthusiasm, and knowing his onions when it comes to this repertoire. Thrusting exuberance ignited the percussive eccentricities of the Haydn symphony, and brought thrills and spills to Jean-Marie Leclair’s music from Scylla et Glaucus, tightly packaged in McGeegan’s own concert arrangement.

Not everything was clean and tidy. In the first half, the nervousness of the slow opening to Haydn’s operatic overture L’isola disabitata was thankfully blown away by the trenchant virility of the ensuing music.

But Mozart’s Piano Concerto No 9 in E flat, with Jonathan Biss as soloist raised questions. Likeable moments of intelligent poise and stability by the pianist were countered by drifts in concentration. More seriously, the ambitious tempo of the finale beat him, robbing this playful music of its definition and natural sparkle. Nor was his connection with the orchestra as sure as it might have been.