Classical review: BBC SSO: Tchaikovsky, Eden Court, Inverness

WITH the resplendent sounds of the St Petersburg Philharmonic playing Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony still ringing in my ears from Thursday night in the luscious perfection of the Usher Hall acoustics, how strange was it to be listening last night to the BBC SSO, tackling the same composer’s First Symphony in the Eden Court Theatre.

It is an unforgiving hall for any orchestral music, yet this student symphony, with its raw explorative ardour almost benefitted from the experience.

Sure, there was little hope in achieving the sumptuous breadth of string tone required in the Lento, or indeed the brazen sheen needed to fully ignite the final bars. Yet Swiss conductor Stefan Blunier focused on what could effectively be achieved: the playful, frenetic delicacies of the opening movement, and the demonic undertones that boil to the surface throughout.

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There was more Russian music in the gorgeously lightweight Eight Russian Folk Songs of Anatol Lyadov – whose style sits somewhere between the Tchaikovsky (particularly the rich melancholy of the cellos-only movement) and Stravinsky – and Tchaikovsky’s Variations on a Rococco Theme, with cellist Pieter Wispelwey as soloist. The latter sounded like particular hard work in the unrelenting acoustic, though Wispelwey’s radiant Bach encore showed him in his true light.

And Blunier was never going to draw full blood from William Wallace’s sub-Wagnerian The Passing of Beatrice, which opened the programme, but he got what he could.

Rating: ***