BBC SSO/Dausgaard

City Halls, Glasgow

Keith Bruce

four stars

IT SEEMED very clear on Friday evening that the two concerts Thomas Dausgaard directed with pianist Elisabeth Leonskaja the soloist and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra were conceived as one extended experience, beginning and ending with Bartok, and with concertos by Brahms and his mentor Schumann either side of Elgar’s First Symphony – like that of Brahms, a work of his maturity.

Oddly perhaps, it was only by being in the hall that this was apparent, as only Friday evening’s concert was broadcast live, while Thursday afternoon’s awaits a broadcasting date. (Maybe there is a grander BBC plan involving the imminent tour to Austria by the same team of musicians.)

However, it was a treat for concertgoers to hear Leonskaya and the orchestra perform the Brahms Piano Concert No 1 so soon after the Schumann. Here is the young Brahms both mourning the older composer, particularly in the elegiac tribute that is the first movement, and then laying out his own stall in the two that follow. The scale of the work, and the range of the orchestration, raises the question of why it took him the better part of 20 years to complete a symphony, and this performance highlighted that in the superb quiet playing of the strings in the Adagio and Leonskaja’s way with the probing, questioning keyboard line that never goes where you expect, and then the abrupt contrast into the youthful vivacity of the Rondo finale.

Like the Hungarian Sketches that opened Thursday’s programme, Bartok’s Concerto for Orchestra is part of the more “commercial” side of his canon, albeit from the other end of his career. It is when the trumpets make their first entrance that the special character of the piece asserts itself – it really is very well named, with moments of exposure for every section of the orchestra as well as for individual skills, and Dausgaard was tireless in making sure every aspect of the various voicings and combinations of instruments was crystal clear. It may not have the durational heft of a Mahler symphony, but this piece works just as well as a season-closing showpiece.