Classical review: BBC SSO/Runnicles

At City Halls, Glasgow. Picture: Donald MacLeod
At City Halls, Glasgow. Picture: Donald MacLeod
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DONALD Runnicles’ relationship with the BBC SSO, particularly his last five years as principal conductor, has been one of epic proportions.

BBC SSO/Runnicles

City Halls, Glasgow


So when it came to celebrating his 60th birthday this week, it was always going to be with one of the big guns of the repertoire. For the occasion – not least tomorrow’s actual birthday performance at the Usher Hall – he chose a work that set ablaze the onset of German Romanticism, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony.

Thursday’s Glasgow performance grew mightily in stature from an opening movement that shuddered initially in rhythmic stability, but which, by the triumphant choral finale with its visionary Schiller text, reached resplendent heights.

The scherzo bristled with earthy dynamism; the adagio was utterly breathtaking, evoking a magical stillness and dreamy optimism; while the finale, capped by the thrusting unanimity of the Edinburgh Festival Chorus, was an emotional knock-out. Of the soloists, Croatian bass Marko Mimico stood out markedly.

The Beethoven was prefaced by an equally wonderful, if less iconic work by Mozart: the meltingly sinuous Sinfonia Concertante for violin and viola, featuring SSO leader Laura Samuel and principal viola Scott Dickinson as soloists. That direct connection with the orchestra had a clear impact on defining the flowing charm and intimacy of the performance.

Samuel’s ringing, clean-cut precision distinguished her persona from the warm, husky masculinity of Dickinson’s viola playing, like an operatic duo made in heaven. As hugely experienced chamber musicians, their symbiosis was electrifying. The SSO, stylistically svelte and mellifluous, was the icing on the cake.

Seen on 13.11.14

• Usher Hall, Edinburgh, tomorrow