Classical review: BBC SSO/John Adams, Glasgow

BBC SSO at City Halls, Glasgow. Picture: Donald MacLeod
BBC SSO at City Halls, Glasgow. Picture: Donald MacLeod
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Standing ovations simply don’t happen very often on a Thursday night at the BBC SSO, which is nothing to do with the quality of performances, just the nature of this particular Glasgow audience.

BBC SSO/John Adams - City Halls, Glasgow

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So when they do jump to their feet it has to have been for something extra special, which itself is almost too feeble a way to describe the performance last night by Canadian soloist James Ehnes of Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto No 1, under the baton of Donald Runnicles.

It was the centrepiece of a substantial programme – surrounded either side by Beethoven’s Symphony No 4 and John Adams’ City Noir – but in its own right was an entirely consuming experience in every possible sense. From the aching rumination of the opening nocturne to the dizzy exuberance of the finale, Ehnes’ vast and effortless mahogany tone cut a swathe that breathed soul and character into every moment.

There was devilish excitement in the scherzo, suppressed ecstasy in the slow inexorability of the passacaglia, and jaw-dropping virtuosity in the absorbing cadenza.

No lack of energy either in the Adams, a symphonic tribute to the shadowy world of American film noir, which blends nostalgic touches of 1950s jazz with steely Herrmannesque melodies and gutsy motorised rhythms, and all thoroughly brought together in a thrusting performance.

That same masculine robustness gave Beethoven’s Fourth a lithe, distinctive character, more so in its later stages, once some initial tentativeness wore off.