Classical review: SCO: Choral Romance, City Halls, Glasgow

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THANKS go to the SCO and conductor Olari Elts for giving us a fresh perspective on that weighty German duo, Schumann and Brahms, for this was a programme centred more on the unfamiliar, as much in terms of works we rarely hear, as works we already know.


City Halls, Glasgow

Star rating: * * * *

The latter was Brahms’ stoical Four Serious Songs in a teasingly opulent and virile extended orchestral arrangement by the living German composer Detlev Glanert. He doesn’t so much transform the songs, as wrap them up in a series of linking preludes, in which Brahms’ themes are morphed into quasi-cinematic scene changes, and the literal Brahms harmonies of the songs themselves – enlivened by Glanert’s piquant orchestrations – seem to melt into a surreal 21st century mist. Within this recast visualisation, Austrian baritone Markus Werba sang with compelling presence, none of the original Brahms altered, but its lyrical resonance amplified by Glanert’s beautifully crafted concept.

Elts opened his programme with Schumann’s Zwickau Symphony, its earlier genesis than the officially numbered symphonies, unmistakable in the way its short sequence of movements chug along with boisterous abandon. It’s a work that plays its heart out quickly, losing momentum to the point that Elts had to indicate to us it had finished in order to elicit bemused applause.

In a mainly choral second half, the SCO Chorus painted a fresh-faced complexion on the 9 Liebeslieder Waltzes that Brahms himself orchestrated from his larger Op52 and Op65 collections. Their singing was crisp, lively and impressively annunciated, despite one obvious sign of fatigue in the soprano line. All of which was redeemed in Schumann’s wonderfully touching Nachtlied, from the magical autumnal textures of its opening, to the central effusive climax. A thrilling end to a satisfying programme.