Classical review: BBC SSO, Glasgow

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A YOUNGISH Benjamin Britten once referred to Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto as “terrible – vulgar, old fashioned”.


City Halls, Glasgow

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Did he think the same of the Third Concerto, which opened last night’s blockbuster concert by the BBC SSO under Donald Runnicles, a programme whose second half boasted the pairing of Britten and Shostakovich?

There was certainly nothing vulgar or old-fashioned about Russian pianist Denis Kozhukhin’s insightful reading of the Rachmaninov, which was boundless in its supreme range of colours and moods, from his tender treatment of the opening unison theme to the gargantuan power of the climaxes.

There was added magic, too, in the way Runnicles sensed the soloist’s naturally woven rubato, and the way Kozhukhin’s wisps of grotesquerie in the finale were picked up and echoed by the orchestra. Proof, in every sense, that Rachmaninov is not just about giving it big slobbery licks.

The second half pitted Britten’s trenchant Sinfonia da Requiem against the biting wit of Shostakovich’s Symphony No9. This particular Britten is a seething expression of his growing maturity as a composer. Runnicles pulled together its searing emotions, its moments of utter beauty and its guttural outbursts of raw modernism to mould a performance that exhausted all possibilities. Then the quizzical irony of Shostakovich, and a symphony that thrives on danger, calculated risk and exactly the kind of demonic virtuosity Runnicles and the SSO gave it.