BBC SSO/Volkov

City Halls, Glasgow

Keith Bruce

four stars

HERE was an object lesson in what an established relationship between an orchestra, a conductor and a venue can make of a remarkable range of music. Between the opening Symphony No 6 of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, at just 12 minutes, and the Symphony No 7 of Anton Bruckner, composed more than a century later and over an hour long, there is a story of the development of orchestral music, the former requiring just 21 string players and pairs of horns and oboe, the latter some 50 with nine brass, five horns and a quartet of Wagner Tubas.

The deployment of the musicians on the platform alone showed the benefit of that wealth of experience, the six double basses crucially lined up above the rest of the band. The Seventh contains some of Bruckner’s best-known music in the Adagio and the Scherzo that follows, and if the quieter passages might have been quieter still, the sequence of climaxes, from the strings, brass, strings again, and then entire ensemble, were masterfully measured by Ilan Volkov.

Even with the much-reduced numbers, the SSO produced a thicker sound on the Bach than would have come from the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, but many of these players are well used to performing early music in other ensembles and Volkov found a very sprightly tempo in the Presto finale that suggested someone who had just remembered why he liked country dancing.

In between the two symphonies, the conductor had programmed a surprisingly rare 20th century masterwork in Igor Stravinsky’s Concerto for Violin and Orchestra. It also concludes in a dance-like fashion but earlier on its rhythmic dialogue between soloist and ensemble is much subtler, and the distinctive orchestration follows the rule that less is often more. Carolin Widmann played with sparkling clarity and brought some big Romantic muscle to the solo part where required in the slow third movement. It may have been chronologically out of sequence, but the piece worked a treat in the musical tale the evening unfolded.