Scottish Chamber Orchestra/Kuusisto

City Halls, Glasgow

Keith Bruce

four stars

THERE is nothing else like a Pekka Kuusisto concert, as Promenaders at the Royal Albert Hall, Thomas Dausgaard and the BBC SSO, and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra’s players and concert-goers already know. But it is the SCO that has secured the versatile Finnish violinist as its Featured Artist this season and this was the first of three concerts that will team classic repertoire with new music in his inimitable style.

A string ensemble of 10, with Tom Wilkinson at the harpsichord, opened proceedings with as dynamic and democratic a performance of Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 as you will hear, the familiar phrases passed around the semi-circle of players like an elaborate parlour game. That set the frame for Anders Hillborg’s Bach Materia in which the Swedish composer takes the same music on an entirely original journey. Composed for Kuusisto and the Swedish Chamber Orchestra, it quotes directly from the Bach, but journeys into blues and bluegrass and at one time is audibly indebted to Bernstein. Just as he had done in the older work, Kuusisto held a long high note as a bridge between movements, but here that also matched his solo improvisation passages in the score. He was also required to add a little singing and some whistling at the close, while the first violins performed one section wearing animal masks. Nor was Kuusisto the only soloist, with cellist Su-a Lee and bassist Nikita Naumov adding funky pizzicato passages in dialogue with himself in a piece that was as perfectly tailored to his talents as he could surely desire.

After the interval Kuusisto took the stage alone, to interweave movements from a Bach Partita with the Finnish folk music he plays with equal facility. Players in Scotland - Chris Stout, Aidan O’Rourke and the Maxwell Quartet for example - have worked in a similar vein, but Kuusisto has put these connections on a global stage.

Perhaps, however, he has yet to bloom fully as a conductor. In his account of Sibelius 5 that followed, precision scored over passion, although the brisk pace of the swan theme on horns and brass was refreshing and made a link with the earlier music. The presence on stage of some BBC Scottish players in key positions can’t have harmed the account either - guest first clarinet Yann Ghiro played this music under Osmo Vanska after all.