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bbc sso/brabbins, city Halls, Glasgow

TO deliver a complex orchestral programme, you need a conductor who is cool-headed and who can think on his feet.

Martyn Brabbins was thus the ideal conductor for the BBC SSO's programme on Thursday, featuring the music of Bartok and Hindemith.

Whatever Hindemith's status might have been during his lifetime, today he is a marginal figure, and one, moreover, with a reputation for being a notespinner.

Brabbins and the SSO countered that view with a blazing account of Hindemith's Mathis der Maler Symphony, a performance that put meat on the bones of the piece and drive in its rhythmic propulsion. He also presided over the impressive UK premiere of the composer's left-hand Piano Concerto, a short work in which Hindemith demonstrated that he understood, for once, that less can be more.

Pianist in the concerto was the Finn Olli Mustonen, who is a bit of a maverick. Mustonen is in Glasgow to play a cycle of Bartok's three Piano Concertos, and opened his residency with the Third. It's Bartok's last work (completed after his death by Tibor Serly). It's also his only poetic and lyrical piano concerto: the BBC used the word "tranquil".

Mustonen chose to see it differently. He was clipped, and staccato at his entry. He kept the rhythmic profile of the music jumpy, nervy and edgy.

He's a brilliant technician, but the nerve endings of the music jangled and, by the finale, the music was reduced to a state of neurosis.

Nobody suggests to interpreters what they should do, but, despite the popularity of the performance, it seemed to me merely idiosyncratic and antithetical to the spirit of the great concerto.


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