Classical review: BBC SSO; Tristan and Isolde Act II

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Two pairs of ill-fated lovers jostled for attention in the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra’s sometimes overwhelming evening under the compelling command of Donald Runnicles.

City Halls, Glasgow

Rating: * * * *

Review: David Kettle

Romeo and Juliet launched the concert, in excerpts from Berlioz’s dramatic symphony. And there was an unmistakable bite to Runnicles’s vivid reading, an underlying restlessness that brought a thrillingly unsettled feeling to this sometimes overheated music. His Queen Mab scherzo, though, was light as spun sugar, the BBC SSO strings on fine form under guest leader Reinhold Wolf.

But Shakespeare’s star-cross’d lovers were never going to overshadow the concert’s main protagonists, in the second part of Runnicles’s act-by-act traversal of Wagner’s mammoth opera, Tristan and Isolde.

Act 2 is the opera’s focal point, with the simmering build-up of ecstasy interrupted at its moment of climax by the arrival of Isolde’s husband-to-be, King Mark. And Runnicles was in his element in the love scene, drawn out to blissful lengths, with a superb pacing that never flagged, yet also a supple responsiveness that highlighted the tenderness of the music.

Robert Dean Smith made a vulnerable Tristan, his light tenor full of a naïve eagerness, although at times he could perhaps have given more. Swedish soprano Nina Stemme was unforgettable as Isolde, her voice richly sultry and gloriously clear.

It will be a long wait till April for the opera’s conclusion.