Music review: BBC SSO, City Halls, Glasgow

THE BBC SSO opened Thursday’s concert with a couple of dedications: one to Debussy from the jagged pen of Stravinsky (his edgy Symphonies of Wind Instruments); the other Mark-Anthony Turnage’s thoughtful tribute (the percussion concerto Martland Memorial) to his late friend and fellow composer Steve Martland, who died six years ago aged 59.

The SSO with conductor Martyn Brabbins

The BBC SSO, City Halls, Glasgow ****

Turnage’s concerto – a largely dance-inspired set of movements – is unexpectedly understated, given Martland’s reputation as a musical rabble-rouser. Yes, there is rumbustious and satirical wit in the Rumba, soloist Colin Currie doing an impressive one-man-band number that juggled bird whistle, car horn and swanee whistle with traditional marimba and Latin jive, and in the spirited Courante and Hornpipe. But overall there is a dark luminescence that shrouds the score, evocatively textured in the opening Cortege, central Pavane and closing Lachrymae.

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Currie, a former member of the Steve Martland Band, also played it cool, as if responding to the sardonic touches of Weill and Stravinsky that colour the orchestra’s opening gambit.

Strangely, the actual Stravinsky, with its rude opening, struck me as more in the spirit of Martland. Under the clinically cool baton of Martyn Brabbins, the SSO wind and brass delivered its vying dynamic layers with crisp electricity one minute, languid density the next.

The second half was given over to Shostakovich’s Tenth Symphony, chilling and unnerving on one level, not least the brutal sweep of the opening movement, quizzically profound on another.

A few uncertainties in wind attack threatened the otherwise grippingly sustained tension. - KEN WALTON