BBC SSO/Dausgaard

Usher Hall, Edinburgh

Keith Bruce


IT is perhaps debatable what precisely conductor Thomas Dausgaard’s Composer Roots programme about the Jewish influence on Mahler’s First Symphony taught us, but it certainly contained a lot of enjoyable and fascinating music.

The performance of the symphony itself was very fine indeed, and while the folk elements are unmissable, there was also a clear sense of how it was the template for much of the symphonic writing that followed from the composer, with the finale containing the seeds of the heart-breaking slow movement of the Fifth, for example. Dausgaard singled out the basses, guest-led by the SCO’s Nikita Naumov for a section bow, but Alberto Menendez Escribano’s seven horns were as worthy of special mention.

The work was preceded by the appearance, stage left, of Paul Moylan’s klezmer ensemble She’koyokh, playing the bassist’s “musings” on Mahler’s music, Klez’Mahler. In the Usher Hall the instrumental sextet was occasionally swamped by the sound of the orchestral instruments, particularly the brass, but the dialogue between the clarinets of Susi Evans and Yann Ghiro was very effective, as was the band’s exit segueing into the opening of the Mahler, with the offstage brass soon audible from the wings on the other side.

Ernest Bloch’s Schelomo: Rhapsodie Hebraique is a curious narrative work that gives notice that it is aware of the full expressive range of the cello as a solo instrument in its opening bars, and then subordinates it to the might of the orchestra, with two harps and powerful brass, and bass clarinet and contrabassoon in full flow. The concerto-like elements later reassert themselves - especially at its conclusion - and Jian Wang is a very fine, passionate, exponent of the piece.

It was preceded in the concert’s first half by Bernstein’s Overture to his opera Candide. It is not the most “Jewish” of his compositions, but one of the most exciting, and very familiar to these musicians. Even so, Dausgaard seemed to find an extra gear for the performance here, which was very pacey and powerful.