If Beethoven's Fifth sometimes suffers the dead hand of familiarity, a performance as crisp and plain-speaking as this restores every iota of its thrill.
Programmatically there are infinite ways of framing the symphony: with works it inspired, with works it superseded, with works Beethoven crafted around the same time or before or after. The BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra posed the symphony as a very Viennese product, opening with Strauss's Blue Danube waltz and stopping by both First and Second Viennese Schools with Berg's Violin Concerto and Webern's arrangement of Schubert's Six German Dances. This perspective illuminated the sense of rustic dance that's integral to so much Viennese music and too often forgotten in Beethoven 5.
It was surprising that conductor Donald Runnicles kept things fairly square until the symphony itself. His was a po-faced reading of Strauss's waltz, prettily played but with little swing to its step. Violinist Julian Rachlin – born in Lithuania but resident of Vienna since the 1970s – made a glorious sound, exactly right for Berg's romantic lines, but the concerto remained mostly earthbound and academic. Only at its close, with the haunting choral, did this performance take on real breadth.
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Runnicles did capture the fond delicacy of Webern's Schubert arrangements, with bejewelled orchestration and solo violin passages showing off just what a classy leader the BBCSSO has in Laura Samuel. But it wasn't until the Beethoven that the orchestral sound really opened up. Even then – save for a powerful, punchy opening – it was the finale that really drove home this band's might. Here was the swing we'd been waiting for; here was the depth of sound, brilliantly bass-heavy. A while coming but worth the wait.