BBC SSO/Wilson

City Halls, Glasgow

Keith Bruce

three stars

THE absence of an unwell Martyn Brabbins meant not just a change of conductor for this season concert by the BBC Scottish, to be broadcast on Radio 3 on Monday evening, but also the loss of the programme’s centrepiece, Pictured Within, the 60th birthday gift to the well-loved Brabbins from 15 contemporary composers which premiered at this years Proms in the Royal Albert Hall.

The replacement for that was Dvorak’s Serenade for wind instruments, conducted by Sergej Bolkhovets, a new conducting fellow at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland who already has considerable experience with the BBC Philharmonic, Royal Liverpool Phil and Halle orchestras under his belt. The rest of the programme fell to the experienced hands of John Wilson, whose tenure as guest conductor of the SSO ended less than three months ago. The anti-austerity precision and clarity he brought to the opening Brahms Variations on a theme by Haydn was an early reminder of what has been lost with his absence. Wilson is a tunes-man with a love of the theatre, and both of these attributes were evident here, even in the layout of the players on stage. Dvorak’s Symphonic Variations of 1877 concluded the concert, which retained a shape without the Brabbins tribute, and Wilson brought out the clear debt to Beethoven in its repetitions, although both works by the Czech composer are examples of his craftsmanship rather than the full flower of his creativity.

The changes made Britten’s Serenade for tenor, horn, and strings the biggest work of the night and although its structure sat well in the context, this was a performance less to my taste. That was not the fault of the SSO’S fine principle horn Alberto Menendez Escribano, who brought both natural and valved instruments to the party, and made full use of the venue playing the Epilogue from the foyer behind the audience. But while tenor Stuart Jackson’s tone and timbre were perfect for Blake’s The Sick Rose in the middle of the sequence, elsewhere his approach lacked drama and I had some reservations about his articulation.

It will be fascinating to hear the broadcast result however, as the placing of the microphones at this concert looked radical different from the customary set-up in the Grand Hall.