Music review: BBC SSO and Pekka Kuusisto, City Halls, Glasgow

The venue may have left a lot to be desired, but there was no faulting the quality of the BBC SSO’s first performance of the 2021/22 season, writes Ken Walton
Pekka Kuusisto with the BBC SSO PIC: Alan Peebles / BBCPekka Kuusisto with the BBC SSO PIC: Alan Peebles / BBC
Pekka Kuusisto with the BBC SSO PIC: Alan Peebles / BBC

BBC SSO and Pekka Kuusisto, City Halls, Glasgow ****

First impression? Glasgow’s City Halls was not a welcoming sight for a concert marking the opening of the BBC SSO’s 2021/22 Season and long-awaited return to playing indoors before a live home audience. Scaffolding outside and inside, auditorium lights flickering on and off, all contributed to a picture of sorrowful decay in a building not long refurbished.

Second impression? The BBC SSO is fighting fit. Still slimmed down in accordance with social distancing measures, it delivered a hugely intriguing programme under the lithe baton of Portuguese conductor Joana Carneiro, with idiosyncratic Finnish violinist Pekka Kuusisto as soloist.

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The programme’s strength was its sense of continuity. On the face of it there were five single works, from the brief Bach Chorale “Es ist genug” played on brass as an inbuilt prologue, to the intense symphonic concision of Sibelius’ Symphony No 7, by way of Magnus Lindberg’s Chorale (based on the same Bach chorale) and Violin Concerto, and Beethoven’s Leonore Overture no 3. But inbuilt connections confirmed their respective positioning as part of one meaningful, integrated journey.

Carneiro presented the first half as an uninterrupted sweep. The potency of Lindberg’s thick-set textural expansion of the Bach was as pivotal in its teasing reference to the original chorale as in setting the context for the Violin Concerto. Kuusisto’s poised performance captured the concerto’s weird attractiveness, at times leaning towards ethereal blues, but equally enjoying expansive Sibelian surges.

Whether by accident or design, a common impetus from fundamental scalic motifs seemed to draw a subliminal link between the Beethoven and Sibelius. Carneiro’s dramatic vision of both made for a thrilling, if sometimes awkwardly balanced, second half.

Sunday’s Edinburgh audience will hear Sibelius’ Violin Concerto instead of the Lindberg, which will no doubt alter the programme dynamic, though not necessarily for the worse.

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