Music review: BBC SSO, City Halls, Glasgow

IF EVER there was proof that putting the right person in front of an orchestra can make all the difference, this was it. Over recent months, the BBC SSO has too often sounded second rate. On Thursday, under its former chief conductor, now principal guest Ilan Volkov, the old hunger, the old confidence, the basic togetherness, the SSO we know and love, was back in action.

Ilan Volkov has brought the BBC SSO back to brilliance

BBC SSO, City Halls, Glasgow ****

It was a challenging programme, but typically Volkovian, with its juxtaposition of the trusted old (Beethoven’s “Eroica” Symphony) and the weird and often wonderful new (Cassandra Miller’s brainteasing Round for orchestra and Salvatore Sciarrino’s wacky violin concerto Allegoria della notte).

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The hypnotic loop effects in Miller’s Round sounded at times like a stuck record, but given such a generous performance by the SSO, its magical aural qualities eventually made their point.

And what on earth is Sciarrino’s “Allegory of the night” all about? He writes about taking us to “the dark side of planet Mendelssohn”, and sure enough, miniscule snatches of the older composer’s famous violin concerto short circuit this work like periodic lightning flashes. Elsewhere the music possesses the chaotic spontaneity of a Jackson Pollock canvas. Violinist Iklya Gringolts played little below the stratosphere.

Back to earth for the Eroica, and a compelling performance that matched punch and grit with overarching poetry and purpose. Volkov had the SSO eating out of his hand. More conductors of his ilk, please, for the long-lasting good of the band.