BBC SSO, City Hall, Glasgow

Michael Tumelty

five stars

HAND on heart and be honest. Was that not one of the most magnificent Donald Runnicles/BBC SSO concerts we were treated to on Thursday night, in what promised to be one of the great weekends of the season? It had everything, from its bronzed, golden Sibelius Finlandia at the beginning, to its blazingly-heroic Beethoven Leonora no 3 Overture at the end, with the SSO in incendiary form and Runnicles in total command of an evening that exemplified his stated mission to me, some years back in an interview, as "refine, refine, refine".

In short, Runnicles is a conductor who matters, with a band which, 30 years ago on the periphery of things, is now absolutely central to music in Scotland. And if that assertion needed demonstration, it was all there on Thursday, with the most delicate, exquisite account I think I've heard of Beethoven's Violin Concerto which, in the intimately-expressive hands of soloist Alina Pogostkina, and the masterly,unhurried, close-up-and-personal care of Runnicles and his ultra-responsive SSO players, was like chamber music, drawing you into its thinking. It was quietly and undemonstratively heart-stopping in its beauty.

But no less heart-stopping was Runnicles' shattering version of Sibelius's Seventh and last Symphony, which was molten in the ferocity of its temperature. It was like being in a hot, locked box in which the sheer intensity of the music was crushingly-inescapable. I found that intensity almost intolerable. Why? Because nobody, including the great Osmo Vanska, has ever enshrined Sibelius's message of this extraordinary symphony so starkly in a performance. The message? "This is the end; there will be no more from me." A searing, unforgettable experience.