BBC SSO/Wigglesworth

City Halls, Glasgow

Keith Bruce

four stars

WHEN pianist Lauren Zhang won the BBC Young Musician competition in 2018, it was very much a local victory in Symphony Hall, Birmingham, the city to which her family had moved from the USA eight years previously. Then she played Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No 2 with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and Mark Wigglesworth, who also conducted the BBC SSO for her Scottish orchestral debut concert on Thursday evening.

Although Prokofiev, the anniversary of whose death in 1953 fell that very day, was represented in the programme, it was by his rarely-heard last Seventh Symphony, while Zhang chose the fiendishly difficult Piano Concerto No 3 of Sergei Rachmaninov. Not that its challenges were in any way apparent in the 18-year-old’s performance, which had a maturity and composure well beyond her years. Structurally it was very well paced from the start, with no histrionics in the first movement cadenza, and a beautifully measured account of the more emotional slow movement. Although it was doubtless better balanced for the live broadcast on BBC Radio 3, in the hall Wigglesworth seemed less responsive to her approach than he might have been, with details of Rachmaninov’s orchestration over-loud early in the work. Zhang had things rather more her own way in the Adagio, while the cinematic sweep of the Finale (akin to that of the symphony earlier) combined the talents onstage to best advantage, before the soloist showed the more introspective side of her musical personality with an encore Beethoven sonata movement.

There is a playfulness about Prokofiev’s “symphony for children” that belies the reality of the Stalinist era of its composition, but in its second and fourth movements there is no denying that the voice of this master of orchestral colour is the same as the composer of that masterwork for young people, Peter and the Wolf. While Wigglesworth seemed a little plodding at times, the slow movement had real depth of feeling, particularly in the passage that features oboe and cor anglais with the second violins and violas.

The programme opened with Alissa Firsova picturesque and atmospheric evocation of the turbulent relationship between Alma Mahler and the artist Oscar Kokoschka, Die Windsbraut, a marvellous work-out for every member of the large orchestra.