Music review: BBC SSO: Holliger at 80, City Halls, Glasgow

Of the three works included in this 80th birthday tribute to Swiss oboist and composer Heinz Holliger, the final one - his Violin Concerto “Hommage à Louis Soutter” – was by far the most extensive representation of the composer’s progressive originality, and the most illuminating.

Ilan Volkov
Ilan Volkov

BBC SSO: Holliger at 80, City Halls, Glasgow ****

Much of Holliger’s music has been inspired by artists and writers whom he admires, many of whose styles - Soutter among them – inhabit a turbulent world of expressionist extremes and shadowy insight.

The concerto – played here with harrowing conviction by soloist Ilya Gringolts – draws on the starkness of Soutter’s visual images, its brief opening movements breathless and soulful, springing from Berg-like reminiscences, before entering a world of troubled illusion and ultimate thickening despair of the Epilogue.

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And it’s the kind of music conductor Ilan Volkov has no problem making sense of, sculpting its abstractness into a deep and meaningful aural experience, realised by the SSO’s undaunted skill in bringing contemporary music alive. They can make textural sense out of the most demanding, unconventional propositions. Here, again, was proof.

Before the concerto, two shorter Holliger works attuned us to his idiosyncratic language: the Paul Klee-inspired Ad marginem, a mesmerising, slow-burning journey between extremes of pitch; and the equally explorative Pneuma, verging on cartoonesque surrealism.

All good and well. But what is happening at the City Halls, whose staff spent the evening adjusting towels to soak up leaks from the roof? And what was that low pounding mechanical thud permeating the concerto? A faulty boiler? Attention required. Ken Walton