Music review: BBC SSO & Antony Hermus, City Halls, Glasgow

Conducator Antony Hermus
Conducator Antony Hermus
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“THIS concert is a bit bananas,” observed BBC SSO violinist Alex Gascoine in his pre-concert interview with conductor Antony Hermus. A blunt assessment, perhaps, but – well, as an orchestra insider, Gascoine would probably know. Most definitely bananas – intentionally so – were the coloratura soprano arias swiped from Ligeti’s opera Le grand macabre and repackaged as Mysteries of the Macabre, a thoroughly entertaining if entirely mystifying (yes, intentionally so) stream of gibberish given a flouncing, startlingly incisive performance by Sara Hershkowitz, brandishing a bucket of KFC and a litre bottle of Irn-Bru. Even more bananas was the decision to preface it with Haydn’s sober Philosopher Symphony, which Hermus delivered with wonderful precision and stylish restraint.

BBC SSO & Antony Hermus, City Halls, Glasgow ****

Winning the prize for bananas, however, was Dutch composer and arranger Henk de Vlieger, for his attempt to condense Wagner’s 16-hour Ring cycle into an hour-long, orchestra-only “adventure” which formed the concert’s second half. There were no doubt good intentions behind the 1991 endeavour, but the result is simply bizarre – opera without voices, bleeding chunks sewn together (usually very smoothly, it should be said), and a whistle-stop rattle through the tetralogy’s first three operas only to spend the final half-hour immersed in Götterdämmerung. The gargantuan BBC SSO assembled for the occasion played its heart out, despite Hermus’s rather workaday direction, which struggled to conjure atmosphere when required, and felt a bit foursquare when it might have been yielding and expressive. It was as if Hermus had decided to play it straight, when it all needed to be a bit more – you guessed it, bananas.