BBC SSO/Dausgaard

City Halls, Glasgow

Keith Bruce

four stars

SCOTLAND’S First Fifteen may have shot their bolt at rugby’s World Cup in Japan, but the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra was just limbering up for its first ever concerts in the land of the rising sun on Thursday evening.

Astutely, the Scottish masterpiece in their tour-book is Peter Maxwell Davies’s An Orkney Wedding, with Sunrise (see what they did there?). Culminating in the evocation of dawn by a highland bagpiper entering from the back of the hall (an immaculately timed, and played, cameo by Chris Gibb), the narrative of the piece could not have been more lucid in this performance. Conductor Thomas Dausgaard’s direction of the opening landscape section was especially effective, and this band really needs no guidance in the party music, although when they are drunk, he made certain the musicians were very precisely pissed.

Russian pianist Yulianna Avdeeva is one of the orchestra’s guests on the tour and will be more familiar to the Japanese audiences, where she has already built part of a globe-spanning career. This was her BBC SSO debut, with a great staple of the concerto repertoire, Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No.1. The SSO strings were in their “Christmas at the Movies” mode from the start, which is entirely correct to my mind, and that approach and Avdeeva’s will surely find more common ground as the relationship develops. Here, however, her controlled performance seemed to be keeping a little too much in reserve for too long, although her playing was dramatic and very carefully phrased, and the final pages built to the cathartic climax desired.

Scottish orchestras, and particularly this one, play Sibelius very well, and Dausgaard had a light touch on the tiller for the opening movement of his Second Symphony. Over time though, it was clear that he had brought a robust earthiness to the slower music in the work, with some fine playing from the lower strings throughout. Perhaps a little of the melodiousness of the symphony was lost as a result, and the finale was, undoubtedly by design, rather less lush and romantic than it is often heard.