BBC SSO/Brabbins
City Halls, Glasgow
Keith Bruce
four stars
IT is difficult to see the necessity for Tchaikovsky’s “Mozartiana” suite now, when the earlier composer’s music is so widely performed, but the Russian’s orchestration of piano and choral music was nevertheless a delight at the end of this clever programme from conductor Martyn Brabbins.
Following the best-known Mozart tune in it, from the motet Ave verum corpus, a set of variations included a long virtuoso obbligato for first violin Laura Samuel. She and principal second fiddle Lise Aferiat had also been the soloists in the opening work, Alfred Schnittke’s Moz-Art a la Haydn.
Beginning and ending in darkness, with the players departing the stage as they do in Haydn’s Farewell symphony, an ensemble of 13 includes the two duelling violinists playing a score that is full of fun and games, with teasing quotations from familiar Mozart.
I have to admit to some disappointment that the afternoon concert’s advertised singer, Elena Zhidkova, had pulled out, and not solely because of her astonishing track record. Shostakovich’s arrangement of Mussorgsky’s Songs and Dances of Death was originally written for soprano voice, and has rather been hijacked by the men. Absolutely appropriate to the dark Russian material though baritone Sergei Leiferkus was, the less obvious was an enticing prospect. His substitution did however, provide a nice link with Martin Dalby’s Nozze di Primavera, which followed after the interval, in that Leiferkus last sang with the SSO on Orkney in 2014 and it was for the St Magnus Festival thirty years before that the Dalby had been written. A celebration of his own recent marriage, the much-missed BBC Scotland Head of Music’s atmospheric score uses a wedding hymn of five centuries earlier in a work that has beautiful string writing and lovely solo parts for the winds.
The Mussorgsky, on the other hand, was the most appropriate work for a day of bleak news, even if there is a rich seam of black comedy in its tales of the Grim Reaper. Sounding very Shostakovian in its opening and closing songs, the Leningrad-trained Brabbins has this music in his blood almost as much as his singer does.