City Hall, Glasgow
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SOME concerts just can't help themselves: they are packed with interest, intrigue, mystery, magic and questions. All the listener has to do is soak it up, sort it out and enjoy the thrill.
This Afternoon Performance, with the BBC SSO conducted by Christoph Konig, was a classic of the type: it had the lot, parcelled into a two-hour concert.
We had the fascination of hearing a young Richard Strauss, just into his twenties, elbowing his way through all that Wagner influence in the opening movement of his Aus Italien, and already emerging with his own voice and accent; and then again, from the far end of his life, producing the utterly transcendent Oboe Concerto as he stood in the middle of his beloved, bombed and shattered Germany. How could he do that? His world was gone, his life nearly over.
From wherever he found the spirit to create such a weightless, life affirming masterpiece, its magic streamed through the absolutely incredible performance of Francois Leleux. His stupendous dexterity and virtuosity are famed, but it was the sheer musicianship that made this performance a great one.
I have never heard the oboe sing like that: I was so bewitched I couldn't move. Then, to compound my immobility issue, as Leleux played Gluck's Dance Of The Blessed Spirits, my heart stopped. What does that man use for lungs?
But the question of the day was: why is Dvorak's Fifth Symphony so seldom played? It is so benign, amiable, packed with good tunes and sunshine. I think it's the finale, where the mood changes, and a bit of darkness and drama creep in. Good to hear it.
RSNO: Turangalila Symphonie
Glasgow Royal Concert Hall
I'VE just worked out, late Saturday evening over a beer, that it's 44 years since I succumbed to total addiction with Messiaen's Turangalila Symphonie.
I've heard what performances I could (it's too expensive to be let out often) and I've snapped up recordings. I've heard it in many colours, but I have not heard it in a presentation like that delivered, with phenomenal playing from the RSNO, by Thomas Sondergard and a brace of soloists on Saturday night.
Now if you like your Turangalila love-epic super-sugared, voluptuously-vulgar, disgustingly-deafening and sickeningly-saccharine, then this might not have been the Turangalila for an indulgent palate.
All these elements were there, in the monolithic statue theme at the outset, the curling clarinet caresses of the flower theme, the naked sultriness of the great love theme with those erotic harmonies that have forgotten to put their clothes back on, and the chiming cacophony of the gigantic piano demonstrations throughout the 10-movement epic.
But they were all realised through conductor Sondergard's analytical, intellectual version of the beast. Of course it was off the leash. It has to be. Turangalila doesn't work, otherwise.
But this was seriously organised, with the textures of the three Turangalila movements pristine, the rhythms of the two big dance movements (5 and 10) properly spring-loaded, the alluring ondes Martenot playing of Jacques Tchamkerten as precise and pure as Bach, and the flamboyant piano playing of Markus Bellheim incisive and powerful enough, if not quite possessing the full steel of an Osborne.
Sondergard's Turangalila was not over the top, sensually, but gripping to the mind. A thinking person's Turangalila; enthralling.
Hilliard Ensemble/ Jan Garbarek
Kelvingrove Museum, Glasgow
With its lofty vaults and vast central hall, Kelvingrove Museum doesn't make the ideal venue for every vocal group; the sound tends to get mushy, diluted or plain lost. But the Hilliard Ensemble isn't every vocal group. For a group that cultivates aesthetic austerity they really thrive on extravagant echo - their performances with Norwegian saxophonist Jan Garbarek welcome resonant space like a collaborative partner. They're never static, either: this concert began with Garbarek alone on stage and the four voices wafting in from all corners of the hall, setting up the mysticism that has become a key component of the Hilliard-Garbarek formula.
Their collaboration goes back to 1994's wildly successful ECM album Officium. Much of their Kelvingrove programme came from Officium's second follow-up, Officium Novum (2010), which is anchored in the music of Armenia and the Orthodox church.
Almost all of it is slow: Garbarek needs space to improvise in the gaps between phrases and weave a fifth voice in among the counterpoint.
His harmonic play is often subversive, turning a chord on its head to make something new. The tone of his saxophone can be harsh and at times he overpowered the delicate voices - their a cappella delivery of Arvo Part's haunting Most Holy Mother Of God came as a relief.
But at best, when Garbarek used his mellow low register to really meld with the voices, the effect was mesmerising. The Hilliards retire this year: after a standing ovation they gave an encore, the beautiful Scottish lament Remember Me My Dear. A poignant close to one of the iconic musical experiences of past decades.
Clannad & Mary Black
Glasgow Royal Concert Hall
There's much Irish musical history entwined with the respective biographies of Clannad and Mary Black. Each has created glorious moments in careers going back decades and if this double bill didn't entirely recapture the magic of which both have been capable, it did give some tantalising glimpses into why they are held in such high regard.
Mary Black's voice was once one that both filled hearts and broke them. These days it's more weathered and careworn and she relied on her strength of personality and stage presence, a fine band including the long-serving Pat Crowley on accordion and keyboards and saxophonist Richie Buckley, and a well-judged set of the strongest songs in her considerable repertoire in an amiable performance. The heather mostly stayed unlit but the hip-swaying Carolina Rua and a rousing Point Of Rescue had something of the Black of old.
Clannad kept the audience waiting for their favourites, opening with a sampling of their latest album, Nadur, and showing that they still have the knack of producing attractively ethereal sounds that draw on the earthier qualities of the tradition.
There's a well-known Donegal pub in the family that produced the core quintet and while the opening Vellum presented a kind of ghostly romance, a waulking song from Lewis and the Two Sisters, which created a singalong from a dark storyline, showed strong connections to informal music sessions.
Their commercial breakthrough, The Theme From Harry's Game, showed Maire Brennan's voice as still capable of a pleasing shiveriness and In A Lifetime didn't really miss Bono but the combined encore with Mary Black and band was a little perfunctory.