BBC SSO/Sanderling

City Halls, Glasgow

four stars

Even without the presence of BBC Young Musician finalist Ethan Loch as concerto soloist, a programme that began with the visceral three minutes of Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man and ended with Dvorak’s Symphony No 9, “From the New World”, would have ensured a good house for the penultimate week of the Scottish Symphony Orchestra’s season.

It is likely, however, that many of the younger faces in the choir balcony were there to support the Central Scotland pianist who has been blind since birth, is still a student at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, and just embarking on his professional career.

His showpiece was Chopin’s F Minor Concerto No 2, written when the composer was not yet 20 years old, even younger than the pianist. Both it and the Concerto No 1 – numbered for the date of their publication, rather than composition – have recently had important performances, and an acclaimed recording, by Benjamin Grosvenor with the RSNO and conductor Elim Chan, and this performance did not quite reach those heights.

The soloist’s first entry is as tricky as anything in the piece – although marked double forte, it is not really a bold first flourish – and Loch was too assertive at the start. In the slow movement, however, he seemed more comfortable with writing that shares much with Chopin’s solo piano works.

The pianist’s colourful and most expressive playing came in his brace of encores: an excerpt from his own piano concerto – which owed a clear debt to Rachmaninov – followed by an improvisation.

Conductor Michael Sanderling did not appear as committed to making the case for Chopin’s orchestral writing as Chan was, but his account of Dvorak’s New World Symphony was another matter altogether. Here was a rough-hewn, and resolutely unhurried, interpretation of a score, that made much of its evocation of wide open spaces with a chunky string sound and ample opportunity for the wind soloists to shine.

For many in the well-filled auditorium, however, the highlight of the whole evening may have remained those opening three minutes. Under Sanderling’s direction, the horns, brass, timpani and percussion of the BBC Scottish absolutely nailed Aaron Copland post-Pearl Harbour tribute to those doing “the dirty work” of the Second World War. Fanfare for the Common Man is so exhilarating it is always a tough act to follow.