Music review: BBC SSO Season Opener, City Halls, Glasgow

Thomas Dausgaard
Thomas Dausgaard
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As season openers go, this BBC SSO one was a refreshing curiosity. The aim – part of a theme this year delving into “Composers’ Roots” – was to set Beethoven’s seminal Ninth Symphony in the context of composers whose influences helped shape his musical personality.

BBC SSO ****

City Halls, Glasgow

As season openers go, this BBC SSO one was a refreshing curiosity. The aim – part of a theme this year delving into “Composers’ Roots” – was to set Beethoven’s seminal Ninth Symphony in the context of composers whose influences helped shape his musical personality.

The first half was effectively a whistle-stop preamble that moved seamlessly (or would have if the audience’s insistence on applauding every work, despite conductor Thomas Dausgaard’s clear body language to the contrary, had not killed the effect) from Palestrina to Haydn, via other key figures.

Theatrical touches added effect. The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland Voices rendered Palestrina’s Sicut Cervus, a little too operatically in style, from behind the audience, remaining there as a front desk SSO string quintet spun a soft and intimate Bach fugue, and finally emerging on stage over the introduction to Handel’s Zadok the Priest, sung strongly, though spoiled by the odd premature entry.

The Turkish-style percussion glitter in Gluck’s Dance of the Scythians made neat pre-reference to Beethoven, as did the clear pre-echo of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy theme in Mozart’s motet Misericordias Domini. As for Haydn’s tart little Symphony No 70, Dausgaard picked up on its irrepressible Beethovenian spirit. When it came to the Ninth, Dausgaard made good use of his modest forces, giving us raw, illuminating points of detail rather than epic emotional girth, though the combined thrill of the chorus, solo vocal quartet and orchestra made its impressive mark when called for.