Rating: 4/5

A MERE dozen or so years separate the Variations on Haydn’s St Anthony Choral by Johannes Brahms and Richard Strauss’s “symphonic fantasy” Aus Italien, but the younger man’s quartet of postcards from his holiday tour of Italy in 1886 sounds from another era entirely. That is partly because Brahms was working with older source material of course, but more because Strauss’s orchestration sounds in places about 30 years ahead of its time. That is particularly true of the second movement, In the Ruins of Rome, surely made to measure for a BBC4 history programme if it has not been put to that use al-ready. Despite incorporating one of the Italian tunes everyone knows – Funiculi, funicula – in the Nea-politan finale, From Italy as a whole remains curiously unknown, but German conductor Christoph Ko-nig’s account of it with the SSO is well worth catching when the concert is broadcast on Friday (October 20).

The Brahms, which opened Thursday night’s concert, is much more of a staple, as, of course, is the First Violin Concerto of Max Bruch. Their coupling in the first half of the evening displayed some struc-tural similarities, starting with the wind band opening of each. Many Herald readers will know the Bruch best from Nicola Benedetti’s playing of it, but soloist Kristof Barati’s account could scarcely have been more different. Although now ten years older than the composer was when he wrote it, curious-ly the Hungarian musician is not especially familiar with his countryman’s best known work and played from a score here, but that was no impediment to a fluid but meticulously precise account of the work. There may be more vivacity in Benedetti’s approach to the gypsy dance finale – one of the best tunes in the entire violin concerto repertoire – but there was a highly refreshing rigour about the technical mastery that Barati brought to such very familiar music.