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SCO/Afkham, City HalLS, Glasgow

SOME years ago I reviewed a CD recording by a young German conductor, David Afkham, and wasn't particularly impressed.

Afkham, now in his 30th year and significantly matured, is becoming a figure in demand and, by and large on Friday night with the SCO, you could see why.

With Beethoven's Coriolan Overture as its crisp, tight, tangy and dramatic starter, and the SCO massively compact with a whole palette of dynamic contrasts on display, the concert could hardly have had a more effective launch.

At the other end of the night, with the SCO in blazingly incisive form, demonstrating its rarity in immaculately-graded ensemble-playing (how do they do this?) Afkham presided over a performance of Schubert's Ninth Symphony that delivered its enormous structures with a light touch, wholly-buoyant rhythms and an airy quality. Even the endless Scherzo went like the wind.

But really the night belonged to the astonishing Swiss-Italian pianist Francesco Piemontesi for his dazzling and amazingly fleet performance of Mendelssohn's First Piano Concerto, one of those rare performances that reveals the mastery and genius of a composition and asks why we hear the piece so infrequently. The playing of the slow movement, which threw a spotlight on the lower strings of the SCO, was breathtakingly tender and beautiful.

And then, having stopped hearts with his own pristine, exquisite playing in the slow movement of the concerto, Piemontesi went on to break them with an encore of a slow movement from one of Schubert's Piano Sonatas: music so simple it could be played by a capable student; music so profound it could have been uttered by a philosopher. A good night.


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