City Halls, Glasgow

Keith Bruce

five stars

IF Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No 1 has one of the most famous openings in all music, the brooding, questioning beginning to the Symphony No 11 of Shostakovich, “The Year 1905”, is surely just as powerful in its very different way. Conductor Alexander Vedernikov’s operatic experience, from the Bolshoi and across Europe and the Atlantic to his new role in Copenhagen, was apparent in every detail of the long unfolding narrative of the symphony. Principal trumpet Mark O’Keefe’s partnership with Heather Corbett’s snare drum was captivating, Julian Roberts outstanding on bassoon, and Gordon Rigby put in a full shift of every tonal possibility on the timpani. There was a concentration and intensity about the string playing of the orchestra that extended across all the sections with the demanding unison passages graced by a world-class robust ensemble sound. Somewhat incredibly, the evening’s printed programme noted that this performance, broadcast live on Thursday evening, appeared to be the first time the SSO had ever performed the work – in which case it was a truly remarkable debut. My colleague Michael Tumelty would undoubtedly have called the impact of the concluding bars “shattering”, and I reckon that adjective is spot-on for the effect it had, marred slightly by some over-hasty applause from a section of the audience.

The enthusiasm was understandable though, the first half having matched the symphony for excitement. As the SSO audience in particular knows, young Russian pianist Denis Kozhukhin knows how to work a Steinway, and the concert grand got a full work-out on the virtuoso concerto that paved the way for Tchaikovsky’s most celebrated ballet scores. Vedernikov’s dynamic control of the first movement was very special indeed, and there was a deliciously crisp snap to the brass playing in the finale, with Rigby on top form there too.