BBC SSO/Carter

City Halls, Glasgow

Keith Bruce

four stars

COMPARISONS with Scotland’s other orchestras were inevitable at this well-attended Thursday afternoon concert conducted by Australian Nicholas Carter, whose global career includes working closely with Donald Runnicles in Berlin.

Ukrainian pianist Vadym Kholodenko is becoming a regular spring visitor with the SSO and this year played Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a theme of Paganini, the work the RSNO recently toured to the USA with soloist Olga Kern. If that meant first horn Chris Gough and bassist Margarida Castro, guesting from that orchestra, knew the work inside out, they were nonetheless part of a very different interpretation of it, perhaps a little brisker overall with alternative rhythmic accents, but also more contemplative in places. Kern is not a showy player, but Kholodenko is less flamboyant and a superb technician, with very nice nuances of volume in his performance. In Carter’s hands the climax of the piece was also more measured and less dramatic than the RSNO under Sondergard. The result was neither better nor worse, but refreshingly different.

That verdict might also apply to the opening account of Haydn’s Symphony No 42, for which Carter used a chamber ensemble of 24 strings with pairs of horns and oboes and a single bassoon and fortepiano. The muscular playing of the strings, which suited the music well enough, meant Andrew Forbes’ keyboard was often inaudible, but it came into its own with arpeggio chords in the slow second movement, with its lovely melody. A string quintet from the front desks was a sparkling highlight of the third movement Minuet and the Finale struck a nice balance between rich sonority and the rigour of historically-informed performance.

The Third Symphony of Johannes Brahms fared a little less well after the interval. The Scottish Chamber Orchestra has set the gold standard for performances of Brahms symphonies round these parts in recent years, and Carter’s treatment of the meteorology of the opening was not quite at that level. There was a little too much of the brass and horns at the end of the first movement, and in the Allegro finale, where the larger forces on stage come into their own, the SSO strings were not as precise as they might have been. In the gorgeous third movement, however, Gough combined beautifully with the flute of Charlotte Ashton and Stella McCracken’s oboe.