Music review: SCO and Lukáš Vondráček, City Halls, Glasgow

We were expecting Robin Ticciati and András Schiff as the star conductor-pianist partnership in this SCO programme but a double cancellation meant a new team had to be assembled last-minute, giving us the ever-reliable Joseph Swensen and 30-year-old Czech pianist Lukáš Vondráček. All credit to both for leaving this intriguing programme intact.

The Scottish Chamber Orchestra
The Scottish Chamber Orchestra

SCO and Lukáš Vondráček, City Halls, Glasgow ***

There can only be a handful of pianists, let alone conductors, who know Dvorak’s only Piano Concerto. Clearly, Vondráček does. His performance was engaging from the outset, the fingers working like industrial power tools on Dvorak’s busy, intricate writing, while drawing out the rich melodic lines and nuanced textures with an instinctive sense of context and function.

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It’s not the easiest concerto to digest; in fact, I’m not convinced it holds itself on a par with the composer’s better known works for solo violin and cello. The substance is uneven, the thread meandering at times and the thrill factor not quite vintage Dvorak. But it was worth an airing, especially in such sincere hands.

The best performance of the night came at the start: Brahms Hungarian Dances Nos 17-21 (arranged by Dvorak), delivered with electrifying rhythmic bite and raw, bucolic colourings by the SCO. Brahms’ Third Symphony, while fresh, clean and fascinatingly balanced in favour of the winds by Swensen, lacked the precision he elicited from his recent Beethoven performances.