Music review: BBC SSO & Ilan Volkov, City Halls, Glasgow

The BBC SSO
The BBC SSO
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As a successful insurance executive, Charles Ives will have known the workings of actuarial risk. As a composer, whose wackiness singled him out as a lone pioneer among the early 20th-century American avant grade, you wonder to what extent calculated risk – taken right to the cliff edge – played its part.

BBC SSO & Ilan Volkov, City Halls, Glasgow ****

That thought persisted throughout his gauche, four-movement Holidays Symphony, which was the ballsy conclusion to Thursday’s quirky, exploratory programme by the BBC SSO under Ilan Volkov.

Unpredictability was Ives’ trump card – the dissonant intrusions that rock the stability of nostalgic 19th-century harmonies; the jarring interjections of multiple popular songs and marching tunes; the ultimate cacophony that tantalises the limits of organised chaos. Yet this absorbing performance unleashed these vying extremes to scorching effect. Where Ives posed risk, Volkov calculated its bounds.

This three-part concert also featured Julian Anderson’s piano concerto The Imaginative Museum and a side to Frank Zappa that will have surprised some, his serious-minded ensemble work The Perfect Stranger, which is a remarkably confident, hard-hitting use of instrumental colours and mid-20th-century modernist rhetoric, but relies overmuch on gestural phrasing clichés.

In comparison, Anderson’s piano concerto, featuring the same soloist, Steven Osborne, as last year’s BBC Proms premiere, knows exactly where it’s going from its single-note start.

Osborne unearthed waves of luminescent beauty from its six descriptive movements and bristling virtuosity at its exuberant heights, all in perfect intuitive partnership with the SSO. - Ken Walton