City Hall, Glasgow
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RIGHTLY or wrongly, it seems to me that there has been a fair amount of Americana in Scottish orchestral programmes recently.
On Thursday night we got the real McCoy from the BBC SSO and conductor Martyn Brabbins serving up a rich stew with a newish piece receiving its UK premiere, a genuine popular classic that transcends alleged boundaries between classical and popular music, and a totally authentic American symphony that still hasn't been recognised, globally, as the masterpiece that it is. Charles Ives' Second Symphony has the lot in its fantastic amalgam of European symphony with US gospel songs, patriotic songs, hymns, American anthems, marching tunes and outright cavalry charges.
Brabbins produced a seriously sophisticated, warm, intense, open hearted, highly integrated account of the great symphony, dazzlingly played by the SSO, and at once revealing the bombast behind the superficially electrifying impact in Leonard Bernstein's legendary, blood on the floor recording of the symphony and the sheer symphonic mastery of the work. Stunning.
Slightly less stunning was Freddy Kempf's playing of Gershwin's Piano Concerto, where the pianist had a light touch and loads of dexterity, but lacked that edge of steel and sheer power, creating the impression that he was skiting over the surface, leaving the band to find the meat in the music.
And while I enjoyed the smoky colours and mood shifts of Sean Shepherd's Blue Blazes, I was startled at the composer's challenge "to point out a jazzy moment in the piece". Er... what about the intro, for starters, Sean? A walking bass is a walking bass even if you transpose the plucked line higher up the string section: the effect is the same.