City Halls, Glasgow

Keith Bruce

four stars

REGARDLESS of when it was actually decided, in the current global climate it is impossible to look at a programme of Russian music performed by Finnish musicians without thinking that a point is being made.

When he last conducted the BBC Scottish, just over a year ago, Hannu Lintu’s concert was of Scandinavian music and Brahms. This year he brought with him violinist Elina Vahala to play the rarely heard Violin Concerto No 2 by Shostakovich, followed by Rachmaninov’s huge Second Symphony.

The hour-long duration of the Rachmaninov can lead conductors to wallow in its later movements, but not Lintu, whose pacing of the opening and the Adagio set up the sparkling melodies of the complex Scherzo and dramatic Finale. The theatricality of the work often comes from the interventions of the winds, brass and percussion but this performance was all about the glorious string sound of the SSO – all four sections at the top of their game.

The conductor has a small but very specific gestural vocabulary and only raised his arms above his shoulders later in the work, but Lintu found a perfect balance in the orchestral sound. While it was as lush as you want to hear in this music, it was also always meticulously precise and built to a truly glorious conclusion.

Soloist Elina Vahala was championed in her earliest years by the orchestra’s former chief conductor Osmo Vanska, and has enjoyed a stellar career, but was making her debut with the SSO. She is an authoritative and poised player and although referring to a score, full of expressiveness.

The Second Concerto Shostakovich wrote for David Oistrakh comes from twenty years after the troubled era in the composer’s life of the First, but it is hardly a work of contemplative ease. In a tricky and unusual key, C Sharp Minor, it references both his own earlier work and the consistent influences on it.

From its deeply introspective start, the concerto develops into a dynamic conversation with the orchestra, initially with first horn Lauren Reeve Rawlings, leading an all-female section. Vahala’s playing was never showy, but her cadenzas were absolutely compelling and of a piece with the shaping of a demanding work that she and Lintu structured beautifully from start to finish.

Glasgow concertgoers would, in any event, have to travel (to Edinburgh or Perth) to hear a touring Russian orchestra play in Scotland, but they would be unlikely to hear this music played better than it was by these Finns with the home team.