Having featured predominantly 'safe' (i.e. consonant/well-known) repertoire in its recent Paris and Italy-themed outings, it was good to see the SCO venture into choppier waters in this sea-inspired concert.
And even if the opener was a well-trodden classic - Sibelius's Pelléas and Mélisande - it was performed with such commitment and fervour as to sound almost newly-minted, with conductor Garry Walker's highly expressive yet measured and exacting direction a key factor, deftly steering his charges through a rich panoply of styles.
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It was followed by Kevin Volans's Symphony: Daar Kom die Alibama - a 2010 SCO commission that never quite got off the ground, in spite of the orchestra's best efforts. Granted, the composer's minimalist, slow-burn approach established a suitably ominous, exploratory atmosphere, but the techniques employed verged on the derivative, e.g.: swelling, dissonant spread voicings (Ligeti); pulsing poly-rhythmic figures (Reich); near-excessive repetition (Glass) - and so
A more satisfying contemporary musical experience lay in James MacMillan's Tuireadh, which brought to the stage one of the true jewels in the orchestra's crown: clarinettist Maximiliano Martín. He is a performer of
rare intensity and presence, able to switch at a moment from pristine, suspended lyricism to rasping, stabbing shards of
sound - all perfectly controlled and, supplemented by superb solo contributions from the ensemble, powerfully expressing Tuireadh's complex emotions of grief and loss.
To close, we returned to more familiar fare with a zesty rendition of Kodály's Dances of Galánta, where the ethereal clarinet cadenza of the introduction soon gave way to earthy, folk-inspired refrains and rambunctious dance rhythms much enjoyed by ensemble and audience alike.
Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Glasgow
It wasn't surprising that the Conservatoire's concert hall
was packed with students for this lunchtime recital. Who
better a role model than pianist Steven Osborne?
Here is a musician at the very top of his game, a musician with enough authority that he doesn't have to shout loud to make us listen in close.
His technique is ferociously powerful, sure, and he really let it fly in a barnstorming performance of Rachmaninov's Second Sonata. But it was the gradations of colour, the way he breathed space into phrases, the inquisitive touch and magical sense of flux that made this recital so captivating.
His playing is exciting for its latent possibility: the knowledge that it could erupt at any moment, but usually doesn't.
He opened with a searching account of Ravel's Miroirs. The first movement (Noctuelles) grew from a whisper and the chordal passages were pensive and unhurried. Oiseaux tristes
had a sad sway and fragile serenity; Alborada del gracioso had real fire and frenetic bravado, while the finale, La vallee des cloches, was haunting and introspective.
Osborne launched into the Rachmaninov almost without pause, and what a perfect storm of an opening it was.
These Conservatoire walls will have witnessed countless students pounding their way through this powerhouse
of a piece; what was so impressive about this performance was that its
force was always brisk and focused and its gestures always incisive no matter how clattering their drama.
When Osborne took time it was over the first movement's bittersweet second theme - earthy, folk-like - or the
gentle, lilting, almost Ravelian second movement.
That said, he also dashed off a thrilling the finale. A performance that had it all.