Classical review: SCO, Glasgow

At the City Halls, Glasgow. Picture: Donald MacLeod

At the City Halls, Glasgow. Picture: Donald MacLeod

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This SCO programme deserved a better audience. Instead, with the balcony closed off, even the stalls area was less than full. Why? The presence of a Henze symphony and a recent work by Glasgow-born composer Martin Suckling? Very likely. Not even a second half coupling of Britten and Mendelssohn was enough to encourage a respectable turnout.

SCO | City Halls, Glasgow | Rating ****

As anyone who has previously experienced the inspirational baton of Oliver Knussen (also Glasgow-born) should have predicted, they missed a treat. Knussen may be of giant proportions and labour onstage with a walking stick, but give him a baton once he is seated and the clarity, buoyancy and sheer lucidity of his performances are like shooting stars.

Henze’s Symphony No 1, written in Germany after World War II, is all the more remarkable for its cheery, optimistic demeanour. Knussen’s perceptive reading inspired delicacy and charm from the SCO, and a soulfulness in the central Lento, characterised by principal viola Jane Atkins nuanced solo. The entire piece had a warmth equal to Friday evening’s glowing sunshine.

Such qualities found all that is ripe and succinct in Suckling’s Six Speechless Songs, a magical sequence of brief character movements, some genuine miniature gems, others taking a shade more time to enjoy the sparkling fruits of the composer’s imaginative and inventive palette.

Jane Atkins was in the spotlight again in Britten’s Lachrymae for viola and strings, which she played with heartfelt expressiveness. Mendelssohn’s First Symphony, after a cumbersome start, took flight and delighted the few.

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