Music review: BBC SSO, City Halls, Glasgow

WHO could deny Alpesh Chauhan the respect he deserves, standing in at short notice for the indisposed Thomas Dausgaard to conduct a live broadcast BBC SSO season opener dominated by Mahler’s Fifth Symphony?

Alpesh Chauhan was a late substitute for Thomas Dausgaard

BBC SSO, City Halls, Glasgow ***

Touching 30, and displaying both the swagger of youth and a cool-headedness born of experience, his authority was impressive. From the scattergun dissonance that opens Chaya Czernowin’s ultra-brief Once I blinked nothing was the same, a shattering sunburst dissipating into an ultimate afterglow of heavy breathing (audience participation required), to the triumphant peroration of Mahler’s epic Fifth, Chauhan’s engagement with the SSO was punchy and mostly purposeful.

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Reaching that cathartic point in the Mahler is, of course, a long and winding road. Chauhan’s view of that journey was relentless and representative of its extremes and excesses, perfectly legitimate in a symphony that wrestles furiously with light over darkness, repose over rage. The opening bars, here melodramatically pulverising, were a starkly-presented microcosm of what was to come.

But while this Mahler was rich in incendiary thrills and, in the famous Adagio, sumptuous and grainy warmth from the strings, it struggled with the cohesive subtleties necessary for every precious moment to matter. Chauhan also miscalculated the power of the brass, which reached overbearing levels in these acoustics.

Nor was the orchestra comfortably balanced in Bruch’s Violin Concerto, again too loud in parts. Soloist Henning Kraggerud, despite producing such an intense tone, never quite found sufficient emotional warmth and lyrical elasticity to offset the lingering unease underpinning this performance.