Classical review: BBC SSO / Runnicles, Glasgow

City Halls, Glasgow, home of the BBC SSO. Picture: Donald MacLeod
City Halls, Glasgow, home of the BBC SSO. Picture: Donald MacLeod
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Between the Scottish premiere of a work by a relatively unknown American composer that had a surprisingly comforting familiarity about it, and a highly familiar Romantic concerto served up with eccentric unfamiliarity, last night’s BBC SSO concert, conducted by Donald Runnicles, was anything but predictable.

BBC SSO / Runnicles

City Halls, Glasgow

Star rating: * * * *

Aaron Jay Kernis’ Newly Drawn Sky – a generally attractive and picturesque reflection by the 53-year-old composer of an evening by the ocean at his home near San Francisco – revealed a language full of warmth, sensuousness and instant allure. Like the ocean itself, the piece never quite sits still, its wave-like peaks and troughs harnessing undercurrents of incessant activity, evoked through string clusters and luminescent chattering textures. Runnicles elicited the riches of the score, not least the fresh clean lines that emerged from the essentially dense orchestral canvas.

Pianist Lars Vogt was not aiming for simple comfort in his idiosyncratic take on Grieg’s Piano Concerto. From the word go, his approach was challenging, even excitingly belligerent. Yet with Runnicles fully on board, and drawing a sharp and golden response from the SSO, it was a performance guaranteed to hold your attention and shine dazzling new light on an old warhorse.

The concert ended with Shostakovich’s Symphony No 1, and a performance, beyond its cautious opening movement, that soon embraced the frenzy of extremes that make this symphony the emotional fireball it is.