Music review: BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra

The BBC SSO
The BBC SSO
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There was plenty of action-packed drama in this BBC SSO concert which started in the splendour of Vienna’s ballrooms and finished with a grotesque funeral.

City Halls, Glasgow ****

Taking the initial pulse of the double basses and bassoons, the orchestra and conductor Yan Pascal Tortelier breathed life into Ravel’s La Valse. They captured the sumptuousness of the waltz in all its guises; from the romantic swirls of strings and harps to a more militaristic brass-powered form.

But it was the subtle dance between the orchestra and soloist Steven Osborne in Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major that most beguiled. The transparency of Osborne’s pellucid tones added a mysterious modernism to his dream-like interpretation, a contrast to the orchestra’s more strident declarations. In the first movement Osborne seemed to be offering them a challenge as he tossed them his finely woven phrases. Only in the slow movement did the two forces unite in a gorgeous hushed passage before launching into the playful and triumphant finale.

The boundaries between art, life and reality blur in Berlioz’s disturbing opium-fuelled nightmare, Symphonie fantastique. This bizarre five movement ‘dramatic symphony’ for extra large orchestra is a long, slow burn.

Evoking a pastoral idyll, the plangent strains of the cor anglais stir the artist’s passions. Then the frenzied strings and blazing horns transport him to his own funeral in March to the Scaffold. As the strings conjured cackling witches, bells tolled ominously offstage as the orchestra drove their vivid account of this nightmare to its chilling conclusion.

SUSAN NICKALLS