Classical review: BBC SSO - City Halls, Glasgow

City Halls, Glasgow, home to the BBC SSO. Picture: Donald MacLeod
City Halls, Glasgow, home to the BBC SSO. Picture: Donald MacLeod
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ONE of the fascinating aspects of any piece of music is how very different it can sound in the hands of different artists.


City Halls, Glasgow


It happened with James MacMillan’s Piano Concerto No 3: The Mysteries of Light on Thursday, when pianist Peter Donohoe and the BBC SSO put a whole new perspective on a concerto we first heard played in Scotland a year ago by Jean-Yves Thibaudet and the RSNO.

Donohoe’s version, unlike Thibaudet’s more pensive approach, had a vital thrill factor, which seems to me essential for a work that, from its clarion-like plainsong opening, ventures through an ecstatic world of colour in all its luminescent hues.

Donohoe’s opening gambit was like a brazen call to attention, the curt main theme exposed in all its bareness and elemental solidity, its stinging presence progressively transformed and strengthened by shattering amplification from an exotic array of percussion.

The theme’s omnipresence cements the five sections of the work, all based on the Rosary-inspired meditations of Pope John Paul II. Yet MacMillan’s development of it is limitless, from attitudinal Bartok-like dances to a ravishing cantabile piano melody in the central section injected with transcendent spirituality by the Messiaen-like birdsong that surrounds it.

Donohoe’s performance was monumental, rhythmically charged, beautifully nuanced and utterly compelling, supported in glorious Technicolor by an on-fire BBC SSO under Martyn Brabbins.

Brabbins himself was in cracking form, imbuing Sibelius’s En Saga with rich, molten shadings, and capturing all that is brutish, lovely and chilling in his all-encompassing reading of Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony.

Seen on 20.11.14