City Hall, Glasgow
WHAT a concert on Thursday night from the BBC SSO and conductor Matthias Pintscher. This was an event of the season, fuelled by the blinding intensity of SSO playing, stoked by Pintscher's fresh insights into the music at hand, and fanned by a classic example of strategic programming at its best.
How often do we hear Stravinsky's Song Of The Nightingale in concert? Pretty much never. It has a tortuous history, but it makes a dazzling, mercurial concert piece, packed with character, unmistakable Stravinskian flavours and rhythms, spiced by gorgeous solos, some fabulous trumpet fanfares and trombone slurping, all devoured and delivered by an SSO consumed with a ferocious appetite.
Then there was Schubert's Eighth Symphony, the Unfinished, whose fate and Schubert's intentions are still a matter of debate. Let me fuel that from this breathtaking SSO performance. It seems to me that Matthias Pintscher made a statement about the alleged torso of the symphony through his interpretation. He gave the two extant movements of the symphony a broad canvas on which to unfold. He was completely unhurried in unrolling the music on to the canvas. And the way the music filled that canvas gave it a wonderful sense of roundedness and completeness: there was absolutely no sense of anything missing; we heard a two-movement symphony, balanced to perfection, with melodies and orchestration from heaven. Nothing else required.
And heaven continued to pour inspiration on to this glorious concert with the electrifying performance of Berlioz's Harold In Italy from outstanding violist Antoine Tamestit, with the SSO and Pintscher collectively underlining the utter maverick genius of Berlioz and the devastating originality of his amazing music.
Fat Sams, Dundee
The last time Embrace played in Scotland Tony Blair was still Prime Minister. His star was fading fast, as was that of many of Embrace's post-Britpop generation, but in 2006 this Yorkshire five-piece was still charting high and selling out major venues. A planned short break became eight years.
This run of Scottish gigs in small venues is to "build confidence" according to guitarist Rich McNamara. No such luck when ticket demand is so high that the first gig needs to be moved to a 1000-capacity venue - that certainly turns up the heat on a warm-up.
However, there's faith in the audience when the first three songs of the night are the first three tracks on an unreleased album, but if the single Refugees is a marker, then the sound has progressed since the likes of Nature's Law. That's the first big hit on the setlist and certainly pleases a crowd that is up for some proper air-punching.
Time has had little impact on frontman Danny McNamara, still sporting a mop of hair and pipe-cleaner jeans. Never the strongest vocalist, he has a quiet authority that's never overly showy.
There's something in the playing that lets them stand apart, particularly that of his brother Rich, with guitar lines and effects that add extra layers to songs that could be pedestrian without them. Mickey Dale's tastefully simple piano playing is effective in adding extra texture, if sometimes a little Coldplay-esque, and not just on Gravity, given to the band by Martin and co.
It was a well-planned set, introducing seven tracks from the forthcoming album, along with the hits. The lengthy lay-off hasn't dulled the appetite of the audience and has brought something extra to the writing. Job done.