BBC SSO/Madaras

City Halls, Glasgow

Keith Bruce

four stars

THE story goes that contemporary admirers of the music of Alexander Borodin wished him ill-health because it was when he was laid-up and not at his job as a research chemist that he had time to compose. His Symphony No. 2 in B Minor is certainly less loved than it deserves to be, with scoring of brilliance for the whole orchestra from the start. On Thursday it was also a showcase for the SSO’s second clarinet Barry Deacon, in top form in the principal’s role for the night. In the spotlight in the slow movement and finale in the Borodin, he also had solo spots in the first and last of Kodaly’s Dances of Galanta, which preceded the symphony.

A great pedagogue of the 20th century, whose musical teaching method is still very much in use, Kodaly’s orchestral music is also less often played than it should be, and although the winds and horns take the lead in these five linked pieces, they are as much a showcase for the strings, and the SSO’s were on top form here.

That was also true of their playing on the First Violin Concerto on Erno Dohnanyi, although it is arguably a work not quite as deserving of rehabilitation, and less full of original ideas than its three-quarter hour length justifies. Nonetheless it had passionate advocates from the composer’s native Hungary on the platform here in young conductor Gergely Madaras, making his debut with the orchestra, and soloist Barnabas Kelemen, making a swift return following his memorable Bartok in one of Thomas Dausgaard’s Composer Roots concerts in February. From the first movement cadenza, underscored only by Gordon Rigby’s timpani roll, to the fiddle fireworks of the finale, Kelemen was quite superb once again.

Stylistically, however, the concerto is a strange work, lush and romantic in its slow movement and finale, but with a Scherzo that seems more from the years of the First World War, which is when it was composed.