Music review: BBC SSO & Martyn Brabbins, City Halls, Glasgow

Pavel Kolesnikov and the BBC SSO under Martyn Brabbins put an unexpected and highly effective spin on Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No 1, writes Ken Walton

Martyn Brabbins PIC: Alastair Muir/Shutterstock
Martyn Brabbins PIC: Alastair Muir/Shutterstock

BBC SSO, City Halls, Glasgow ****

The standard approach for a pianist to the opening of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No 1 is to follow the traditionally accepted dynamics, which is a healthy, often hammered fortissimo. But there’s another way, which the composer himself considered, which is to introduce the famous chords with tenderness and expectation. It makes for a very different experience, and it was a winner for Siberian-born pianist Pavel Kolesnikov and the BBC SSO on Thursday.

Void of bombast and coloured by a delicate spreading of the chords, this approach not only heightened the expectation and sensuousness of the music, it allowed conductor Martyn Brabbins to apply equal finesse to the initial orchestral wash. Kolesnikov set an alluring and inquisitive mood, and didn’t disappoint. He filled every moment with natural spontaneity, nuances that kept everyone else on the their toes. The slow movement was blissfully poetic, the finale a whirlwind without the bluster.

HIs choice of encore – Chopin at its simplest and most magically understated – was the perfect response, a return to the unexpected enchantment that so defined the opening of his Tchaikovsky.

The other Russian surprise was the seldom-heard Symphony No 1 by Vasily Kallinikov, though some may recall the 1990s recording of both his symphonies by Neeme Järvi and the RSNO. It’s a work straight out of the Tchaikovsky/Glinka mould, whose themes remain with you well after the event, given their hearty Russian-ism and the unapologetic reiteration they enjoy throughout.

Brabbins allowed them all the prominence they deserved – a cocktail of wistfulness, fruitiness and swagger – but equally sustained a pressing momentum that captured the joyousness of the symphony. There’s a side to this music that is transparent, almost as if Kallinikov is painting by numbers, but there is also a genuine soulfulness. Brabbins and the SSO struck a convincing balance.

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