Music review: BBC SSO, City Halls, Glasgow

American conductor Tito Muñoz led the BBC SSO in a performance that was vital, fiery and, where it mattered, mischievous and dazzling, writes Ken Walton

BBC SSO, City Halls, Glasgow ****

One thing we’ve learnt to live with in these recent troubled times is the regular likelihood of international artists cancelling last-minute due to health, visa, diary or political difficulties. It was a double whammy for the BBC SSO this week when both Portuguese conductor Joana Carneiro and Moscow-born pianist Zlata Chochieva cancelled. But their replacements – Americans Tito Muñoz and Eric Lu respectively – stuck to the advertised programme and did well by it.

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I’ve no idea if Muñoz already knew Anna Clyne’s dark urban depiction, This Midnight Hour, but there was no shortage of conviction and gutsiness in the incisive performance he inspired from an instantly responsive SSO. From grubby, low-pitched scrubbings and feverishly gathering momentum, through a myriad of mood swings that embraced steamy, decadent diversions, the impression was of a wild, filmic sweep through dangerously exciting territory.

Tito Munoz PIC: Roger Mastroianni
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As such, Clyne turns often to musical cliché, but the forcefulness of her vision, her resourceful exploitation of strikingly extreme and unlikely orchestral colours (the out-of-tune violas that conjure up what sounds like a wheezing concertina), are what gives this work its gritty appeal.

Chopin’s Piano Concerto No 1 provided the perfect follow-on, its liquid ornamentation emitting a comforting calm, even where high drama sets in. The young Eric Lu – he won the 2018 Leeds International Piano Competition, aged 20 – addressed it with composure and neatly nuanced precision, imbuing Chopin’s florid lyrical variations with un-showy, virtuosic charm and effortless poeticism.

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It’s a long piece, and might have benefitted from some more spirited spontaneity and creative orchestral balancing, but it revealed a pianist whose future is certainly worth keeping an eye on.

Muñoz ended his programme with Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra, a performance that was vital, fiery and, where it mattered, mischievous and dazzling. Let’s get him back.