Celtic Connections

BBC SSO/Budapest Bar

City Halls, Glasgow

Keith Bruce

five stars

WITH the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra already effectively installed as the house band of Celtic Connections (playing the music of Martyn Bennett last year and Laura Marling to open the 2017 programme), the festival's artistic director Donald Shaw clearly has an ally in relatively new chief conductor Thomas Dausgaard. The first half programme here was a genius interweaving of six of Brahms' Hungarian Dances (three in orchestrations by Dausgaard himself), with four Schubert songs, as orchestrated by Brahms and sung by young baritone of the moment Benjamin Appl, and contributions from five-piece Hungarian gypsy band, Budapest Bar, featuring flamboyant guest fiddle Roby Lakatos (in generously-cut wet-look morning dress – eat your heart out Maxim Vengerov).

As you can hear by tuning in to Friday's afternoon concert on Radio 3, "Brahms in Budapest" was a superb concept, brilliantly sequenced and quite immaculately performed by everyone involved, in defiance of curtailed rehearsal time. Produced to move slickly through its various elements, it might actually have been improved by the audience sitting on their hands until the end, but listeners in the hall could hardly been blamed for expressing their enthusiasm, especially for the fireworks provided by Lakatos and the band. Appl could hardly be expected to compete, but his poised contributions were an important counterbalance.

Dausgaard and the SSO should get the lion's share of the credit though. The variety of the music these players have turned their hands to in the past six weeks is quite astonishing, and when Dausgaard directed (from memory) Brahms Second Symphony after the interval, they made clear how superbly they also play the core repertoire.