Music review: BBC SSO & Thomas Dausgaard, City Halls, Glasgow

A programme of Nielsen and Bartók saw Thomas Dausgaard draw an abundance of riches from the SSO, writes Ken Walton

Thomas Dausgaard PIC: Per Morten Abrahamsen/BBC/PA Wire
Thomas Dausgaard PIC: Per Morten Abrahamsen/BBC/PA Wire

BBC SSO & Thomas Dausgaard, City Halls, Glasgow ****

Has Thomas Dausgaard been saving the best till last? During the six years he has been chief conductor of the BBC SSO I can’t recall performances in which he and the orchestra felt so at one; where the commonality of purpose was so direct, so intense, so instinctive, that the music (in particular, in this concert, Carl Nielsen’s warm-hearted Second Symphony) poured out like a multiple explosion of mirth, melancholy, even a hint of madness. Ironically that, this coming week’s concert represents his final home appearance in post.

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Thursday’s programme was well-balanced, the Nielsen, short and snappy, a welcome complement to the determining narrative and imagery of Bartók’s ballet score The Wooden Prince, performed here in the composer’s shortened version of 1932. And where the former, subtitled The Four Temperaments, made no apology for its single-minded symphonic intent, Bartok’s music revelled in its riot of influences, from the undulating warmth of the Wagnerian opening, to moments of unadulterated Debussy and Stravinsky, to closing bars awash with late Romantic lustre.

Dausgaard gleaned an abundance of riches from the SSO, whether through the pungency of the strings, the often exotic interplay of the wind, the punchiness of the brass, even the musical bling emanating from Bartok’s duetting celesta. It was a sweeping performance, heightened by the grotesquerie of the tale – a prince who fashions a puppet as himself to woo a princess, whose response falls in the puppet’s favour – though just a fraction short of electrifying.

That was reserved for the Nielsen, its opening instantly brutal and forthright, signalling the vitality and intensity about to unfold in a depiction of the four “humours” – Choleric, Phlegmatic, Melancholic and Sanguine – based on caricatures the composer had observed on a pub wall. Dausgaard went big time for its pathos, dynamism and sardonic essence.