BBC SSO/Dausgaard

City Halls, Glasgow

Keith Bruce

four stars

THE BBC SSO is ending its season with concerts in Glasgow and Salzburg in the company of the pianist Elisabeth Leonskaja, Russian-born but long resident in Austria. In the way of the life of international soloist, she is rehearsing and playing in Scotland before introducing the orchestra to her home crowd.

In the first of her two City Halls concerts it was Robert Schumann’s Piano Concerto from 1845. As we have no real way of knowing, I am choosing to believe that her performance was as close as can be to hearing the composer’s wife Clara perform, as she did in Edinburgh and Glasgow some 20 years or so later. Expressive and eloquent, with exquisite refinement of phrasing in the first movement cadenza, it was a lovely performance. There is lots of fine music for the orchestra as well in the work, but the focus was always on Leonskaja, not least on the part of conductor Thomas Dausgaard.

With a few high quality deputising guests filling the vacancies in the strings, this was the SSO at full strength and you could hear that in the quality of the playing from the winds at the start of the concerto just as it had been apparent in the five Hungarian Sketches by Bela Bartok which opened the programme.

The colours in the orchestration of that music made it an interesting aperitif to the First Symphony of Edward Elgar in the second half of the concert. Although the opening of the work could be no-one else, the portentous theme that will also bring the symphony to a close quintessentially Elgarian, the whole work is a rich feast and much more lively and warm-sounding even just a few pages on. The influence of Schumann is detectable, but not as obviously as that of Brahms, and the second movement Scherzo sounded rather Russian in Dausgaard’s brisk reading, with the segue into the Adagio third movement very poised and precise.