City Hall, Glasgow

Michael Tumelty

ALAS, I have to report a major distraction at the wonderful SCO 40th birthday concert on Friday; so the music first and I have to keep it tight. With Robin Ticciati at his most succinct, his gestures modest and economic, this was a defining SCO event, an intellectual and musical masterpiece of a concert, outstandingly played by a great orchestra at the top of its game.

In Martin Suckling's new commission, Six Speechless Songs, I was captivated again by this young man's orchestrational mastery, and drawn into his personal background to the composition, as a new father. I heard a beguiling, nocturnal sound world, full of stillness and restlessness from the cot, and the alluring sense of a small presence with the rocking, lullaby strain in the music. There's more to it, and I'm sure we'll hear it again.

Maria Joao Pires's spellbinding performance of Chopin's Second Piano Concerto, the finest I've heard, was entirely about the innate poetry and lyricism of the music, delivered flawlessly and fluidly by this wondrous pianist, whose pristine virtuosity was clearly subservient to the poetic sensitivity she found in the young Chopin's masterpiece.

Ticciati's freshly thought and blindingly compact Beethoven Five, stripped of excess and indulgence, and strictly following the letter of the score, right down to the precision timing of a quaver rest, was as mind opening as it was breathtaking.

And that distraction? Somebody's hearing aid whined all night. It was intrusive in the Suckling, and the hall made a fruitless announcement before the concerto, during which the whine became pervasive.

I expected Pires and Ticciati to stop the performance. Maybe they turned a deaf ear. I couldn't. An irritant? It was utterly hellish.


Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

Michael Tumelty

WHAT an eventful weekend. And what serious business went on last week in the RSNO rehearsal room? I cannot be the only one to have noticed it. When the orchestra opened Saturday night's concert with the Overture to Wagner's Tannhauser, I went into default mode and took cover as the big tune, The Chant Of The Pilgrims, approached. That's the moment when the full might of the orchestra, led by the trombones, is unleashed. The violins punctuate the notes of that big tune with what is usually described as a "scampering" figure. (In the reprise, that figure becomes a series of downward scales). I only know this because I've seen it in the score: I've never actually heard it, because the orchestral brass section is a musical steamroller and will flatten anything before it.

Having ducked, I suddenly realised I could hear the strings. I cautiously raised my head above the parapet and realised two things: the artillery had been moved lower; and they had been balanced, exemplifying a principle that has been reiterated here ad nauseam for 30 years: you don't need to shout to be heard. I nearly cried: the balance was warm and exquisite. Music director Peter Oundjian's work? Keep it going, maestro. Fantastic.

And they were all off the leash later in a sensational and lacerating performance of Walton's First Symphony, which crackled throughout with electricity, and bathed the hall and listeners with those golden, majestic, fanfare figures. God, I loved it.

And, though I find his vocalising disconcerting, Richard Goode's dry, lucid articulation of Mozart's intimate little G major Piano Concerto suited Oundjian's small chamber orchestra approach, with just a tight wee band.