Classical review: BBC SSO: Benedetti plays Szymanowski, City Halls, Glasgow

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The problem with themes like the BBC SSO’s Muzyka Polska, which runs through this season, is that the odd dud tends to turn up.

That’s maybe exaggerating the weaknesses of Mieczyslaw Karlowicz’s Eternal Songs, but on last night’s reckoning, this half-hour, three-movement tone poem by the late 19th century Polish Romantic seemed 20 minutes too long.

BBC SSO: Benedetti plays Szymanowski

City Halls, Glasgow

Star rating: * * *

There was a sense, in American conductor Andrew Litton’s flatline interpretation, that he was playing to the work’s weaknesses – the composer’s interminable reliance on sequences, his somewhat anchored tonal scheme, and a general lack of getting anywhere fast.

When the temperature did eventually soar, in the final Song of Eternity, it was all too late, and all too glib.

That said, poor Karlowicz never had much of a chance to prove himself, dying in a skiing accident at the age of 32. Not so Szymanowski, who lived life long enough to produce a 
jewel such as his Violin Concerto No 1.

We know it well from Nicola Benedetti’s oft-repeated performances of it, most recently at the Edinburgh Festival, and here she was again to bring its delicate impressionistic lustre and mercurial luminescence to life.

Prokofiev’s Symphony No 5 – a Russian cuckoo in the Polish nest – brought out the best orchestral playing of the evening, Litton harnessing the symphony’s mixed cocktail of garish mechanical grotesquerie and ethereal bittersweet tenderness in a performance as explosive as the nearby George Square fireworks that ceased just in time for this live radio broadcast.