It’s been a wonderful week for violin aficionados. First they had Nicola Benedetti, this weekend it’s James Ehnes with the RSNO, but the unexpected delight on Thursday was Hungarian Kristóf Baráti, whose performance of the Bruch Violin Concerto with the BBC SSO (Friday’s Inverness audience got the Mendelssohn) was utterly engaging.
City Halls, Glasgow ***
The glorious sound from Baráti’s Stradivarius was viscerally penetrating. Every note floated above the orchestra, soft passages piercing through even the busiest of textures, making the listener’s experience effortless, illuminating, and warmly satisfying.
Then there was the sheer command and presence of the man. Baráti has the build and physicality of a sportsman, which translated into a performance of immaculate discipline and razor sharp rhythmic precision. It was there in the crackling fireworks of the finale, but equally, it informed the shapeliness and rich poetic expressiveness of the scene-setting opening, and of the enchanting slow movement.
That was one side of Thursday’s performance. The other was of a BBC SSO that seemed strangely at odds with itself. Was that anything to do with conductor Christoph König, whose body language seemed crisp and clean enough, but which the orchestra seemed unable to fully embrace in performances of Brahms’ mercurial Variations on a theme by Haydn and Richard Strauss’s Aus Italien that needed the nuts and bolts more fully tightened?
Whatever the cause, this was not the vintage tight-knit corporate sound once fully guaranteed by the SSO, more that of a scratch band put together for the purposes of the night.