FOUR stars might seem an extravagant hand-out for Friday night's SCO concert, in which Spanish conductor Pablo Gonzalez, though a lively and dynamic figure, didn't quite pull off the precision job required to guarantee the consistently top-drawer playing associated with the SCO in performance.

On too many occasions, in the performances of Beethoven's Egmont Overture at the start of the evening, and Mozart's early G minor Symphony at the close, ragged-edged ensemble at section and paragraph beginnings gave the music a bumpy ride.

That said, there was a deal of brilliance in the performances: the SCO demonstrated convincingly that the wee G minor symphony is a masterpiece: in several of its movements it says what it has to say, then just stops; superfluities not required. And the real qualities of Weber's music emerged vividly in the immensely characterful and super-articulate performance of his Bassoon Concerto by SCO principal Peter Whelan, with a heart-stoppingly lyrical account of the beautiful pages in the slow movement.

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But I think all should agree that the night belonged to principal clarinettist Maximiliano Martin for a genuinely extraordinary performance of Weber's First Clarinet Concerto, one which scaled the precipitous heights and lovely depths of the instrument, underlining at every stage, and with every melodic and harmonic contour, the unparalleled genius of the composition.

I've heard Max Martin on many occasions: on disc, in concert as soloist and in orchestral ensemble. This, by my reckoning, was the performance of his life; and his great colleagues, not least the mellifluous horn section, gave him a backing to die for. Four stars all round.