Classical review: BBC SSO

BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. Picture: Donald MacLeod
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. Picture: Donald MacLeod
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RUSSIAN composers have a way with orchestration that is both intuitive and unique.


City Halls, Glasgow


In Rimsky-Korsakov, it’s the brilliantly evocative imagery; in Scriabin, it’s the boiling hot cushion of sound embracing the elastic chromaticism of his post-Wagnerian harmonies; in Shostakovich, it’s the brutal extremes that ignite moments of biting satire.

All three came together in Thursday’s opening concert of the BBC SSO season, a blistering trilogy of works that is repeated tomorrow afternoon in Edinburgh.

Chief conductor Donald Runnicles flexed his interpretational muscles from the outset in Rimsky-Korsakov’s recomposition of Mussorgsky’s tone poem, Night on a Bare Mountain, a performance that gave full vent to the emotional wildness of the music without letting its excess spirit spill over into flights of careless abandon. Sharp rhythmic detail and incisive contrasts kept the music firmly under control. It was electrifying.

Then an instant transportation to a more rhapsodic world: the early Piano Concerto in F sharp minor by Scriabin. Its language is exploratory and, in many ways, inpenetrable to the listener.

Yet the Irish pianist Barry Douglas found richness in its initial introversion and orchestral domination, allowing it to blossom – after the curiously disjointed slow movement – into the sub-Rachmaninov effusion of the finale.

This Russian feast reached boiling point in Shostakovich’s pugnacious Symphony No.10, again heightened by the SSO’s biting response to Runnicles’ energising beat. If this is about the freedom of a composer to finally speak his mind, then the message was loud and clear.

Seen on 25.09.14
• Usher Hall, Edinburgh, tomorrow