Music review: BBC SSO, City Halls, Glasgow

THURSDAY’S BBC SSO programme did not proceed as intended. With advertised conductor Martyn Brabbins ill last week, his place was taken mostly by John Wilson, but with the young Sergej Bolkhovets – a conducting fellow at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland – drafted in for Dvorak’s Serenade for Wind Instruments.

John Wilson
John Wilson

BBC SSO, City Halls, Glasgow ***

The Dvorak was a replacement for the intended “Pictured Within” – a set of variations commissioned from multiple composers by Brabbins for his recent 60th birthday, and premiered at last summer’s Proms. Bolkhovets exercised his filler task with effortless efficiency.

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What consequently transpired was strangely incohesive, seemingly overlong, despite opening with one set of variations, Brahms’ fruity Variations on a Theme of Haydn, and ending with another, Dvorak’s highly concentrated, ultimately wildly explosive Symphonic Variations.

Wilson allowed self-propulsion to drive these performances. His focus in the Brahms was its rich, voluptuous texturing and evocative mood swings; in the Dvorak, the elemental power of the source theme and endless manipulations the composer subjects it to.

Britten’s Serenade for tenor, horn and strings featured two fine soloists: searing tenor Stuart Jackson (as colossal as Bond villain Jaws) and unflappable SSO lead horn Alberto Menéndez Escribano. There was much to savour, but Jackson’s assuredness was erratic, and at such key moments as “This ae night” lacked the sustained intensity Britten surely intended. Ken Walton