Music review: BBC SSO, City Halls, Glasgow

A memorable performance of one of Norwegian composer Geirr Tveitt’s Hundred Hardanger Tunes allowed conductor Tabita Berglund to make an distinctive impression on her SSO debut, writes Ken Walton

BBC SSO, City Halls, Glasgow ***

Geirr Tveitt’s Vélkomne med æra lasted only a few minutes, but as the opener to this BBC SSO concert – one of only a handful of Tveitt’s Hundred Hardanger Tunes for orchestra to survive his family house fire – it introduced us to a 20th century Norwegian composer whose recasting of authentic folk music from his homeland is every bit as exquisite and illuminating as Vaughan Williams’ treatment of traditional English song.

Consumed by a luxurious warmth, touched by subtle, shifting nuances, predominantly hushed but with impassioned undercurrents, it also allowed up and coming Norwegian conductor Tabita Berglund to make a distinctive impression on her SSO debut. The engaging glow she instantly captured, the supple warmth of the strings and the piquancy of the prominent piccolo, set a mood of calm anticipation.

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The programme’s endpoint was something far more dramatic, Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony, in which a confident and animated Berglund revealed her racier temperament without losing sight of the music’s more delicate strands.

Even after the solemn ruminations of the introduction, luminous energy brought sunlit clarity to the ensuing Allegro. The slow movement was less convincing overall, its opening theme slightly featureless, its closing sighs short on exhaustive desperation, but the movement’s central turbulence amply repaid the loss. Berglund reasserted her complete authority in a deliciously amorous Valse, its playfulness akin to Viennese operetta. Her finale, beyond rekindling the opening darkness, surged purposefully to its triumphant destination.

So what went wrong with Dvorak’s Cello Concerto? With Truls Mørk (once Berglund’s cello teacher) as soloist, expectations were naturally high, yet an awkwardness in their communication made this performance nervy. Berglund’s visible anxiety with Mørk’s often unpredictable tempi resulted in skewed orchestral attacks. There were many fine moments, mostly in the more assured finale, but as a whole it seemed troubled, as if underrehearsed.

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