Music review: BBC SSO - Tristan und Isolde, Glasgow

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YOU could say Richard Strauss and Richard Wagner go together like Tristan and Isolde, as was the case last night in a concert primarily focusing on the final act of Wagner’s glorious love opera Tristan und Isolde.

BBC SSO: Tristan und Isolde Act 3

City Halls, Glasgow

* * * *

The BBC SSO, which under Donald Runnicles have been “serialising” it over the course of three concerts, positioned Strauss’s Metamorphosen as a neat preface to that standalone third act.

The latter was an inspired move, Strauss’s mournful, molten and monumental elegy for 23 strings acting as a potent metaphorical mood-catcher, its ghostly allusions to Beethoven as much a nod to Wagner as the awesome, swirling density of its dark silken textures.

Yet this was a strangely staid, four-square performance, in which Runnicles seemed to harness any outward display (the thin, unmoving introversion of the violins, for instance) instead of allowing Strauss’s intertwining gestures the freedom they crave.

There was no holding back in the Wagner, thank goodness, although that did have its consequences in the mountainous climaxes, where singers were often left open-mouthed and inaudible above the might of the orchestra.

A minor problem, when there were such absorbing vocal performances as Robert Dean Smith’s achingly wretched Tristan, Markus Eiche’s ardent Kurvenal, and teasingly brief appearances by Matthew Best as a trenchant King Mark, and Jane Irwin as a lustrous Brangäne. Petra Maria Schnitzer, while sweet in the higher tessitura, never grasped the inner warmth of Isolde’s final Liebestod.

Great music, though, and plenty swathes of spine-tingling emotion.