City Halls, Glasgow

Keith Bruce

four stars

WHEN we spoke in Glasgow over a year ago, ahead of his concert re-opening the Music Hall in Aberdeen with the BBC SSO, conductor Alpesh Chauhan told me apprenticeship in Birmingham with the CBSO developed his taste for the big works of the mainstream repertoire at a young age. He’s back in Glasgow for an SSO Afternoon Concert in December, with a programme that includes another of his personal favourites, Britten’s Sinfonia da Requiem, so there are many reasons why the orchestra asked him to step in to replace an unwell Thomas Dausgaard to open its new season.

It is the Adagietto from Mahler’s Fifth Symphony that everyone knows from its screen soundtrack use, but the heart of its hour-and-a-quarter is the long central Scherzo. In a work resplendent in orchestral colour, it is sparklingly adorned and Chauhan made sure it really shone here. The solo trumpet that begins and stars in the symphony, here in the expert and characterful hands of Mark O’Keeffe, and later the horns and winds all have lovely music to play, but the SSO strings were often the stars of this performance, the number of guest musicians at many desks notwithstanding. The ensemble sound of the cellos, guest-led by Alice Neary, was particularly impressive. The fact that it is also Chauhan’s instrument may be no coincidence.

My favourite recording of Mahler 5 is by the Bamberg Symphoniker and Jonathan Nott, who coincidentally premiered Chaya Czernowin’s Once I blinked nothing was the same, which had its first UK performance to open this concert. Its staccato start and audience-participation finish made the miniature an ideal way to begin a new season.

Violinist Henning Kraggerud treated the audience to a little of his own music as an encore to his performance of Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1, and on the evidence of Postlude No. 10 from his Equinox for solo violin and string orchestra, a performance of the whole work would be well worth hearing. The Bruch, on the other hand, is somewhat over-performed, and for all Kraggerud’s singular stylistic approach - neither as four-square as we have heard the piece performed in this hall, nor as abandoned as some fiddlers become for the gypsy dance finale - his voice is more eloquent in Mozart or the Nielsen he played on his SSO debut last Spring.