Music review: BBC SSO, City Halls, Glasgow

The German duo of conductor David Afkham and violinist Tobias Feldman combined brilliantly in this refreshing performance of Beethoven’s Violin Concerto, writes Ken Walton

David Afkham PIC: Gisela Schenke
David Afkham PIC: Gisela Schenke

BBC SSO, City Halls, Glasgow ****

As attractive a prospect for soloist in Beethoven’s Violin Concerto as Veronika Eberle was, the audience at this Glasgow concert could hardly have felt short-changed about the young German who replaced her when Covid issues prevented Eberles from appearing.

Thirty-year-old Tobias Feldmann gave a performance that revealed a talent that goes way beyond his relative anonymity. He was working with a fellow German, the conductor David Afkham, and the synergy in a poised, purposeful, and at many points thoroughly refreshing vision of this towering work, was as profound as it was sublime.

It was fascinatingly unorthodox in its use of the 20th century Viennese virtuoso Wolfgang Schneiderhan’s more intense cadenzas, drawing on material from the composer’s own piano concerto version of the work and cleverly throwing in an initial timpani obbligato based on the concerto’s repeated opening notes. Marking pivotal moments in the work, these more adventurous cadenzas added a sense of unpredictability to what would normally be comfortable familiarity.

Feldmann’s playing was not only technically impressive but imbued with a brilliance of tone and natural response to the lyrical flow, heightened by that scintillating buzz that emanates from pitching the intonation ever-so-slightly on the sharp side. With Afkham on the same wavelength, and the SSO responding with precise sensitivity, the outcome was blissful.

The second half was also dominated by German heft – Schumann’s sturdy “Rhenish” Symphony No 3 – but not before South Korean-born composer Unsuk Chin’s truculent Subito con forza, a five-minute tribute to Beethoven (written for last year’s 250th Anniversary celebrations) in which fleeting snippets of original Beethoven act as touchpaper to Chin’s own explosive responses.

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It contrasted vividly with the noble sobriety of the Schumann, a performance that moved on several levels, but suffered from occasional textural imbalance.

This programme is repeated at the Usher Hall, Edinburgh on 28 November

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