Four stars

For doubtless entirely practical reasons to do with positioning the piano and live broadcasting, the plan for the second instalment of chief conductor Ryan Wigglesworth’s pairing of the music of Bach and Stravinsky was changed to place the earlier music, with Wigglesworth as soloist in Bach’s 1738 Keyboard Concerto in E, at the start rather than between the two pieces of 20th century dance music.

While the change did not help the flow of the evening, or the parallels the conductor hoped to point up, it was still clear the compositions in the first half shared a functional purpose. Bach was reusing melodic material he had written for his church work to provide some fun music for his students in Leipzig to play in a city coffee house, while Stravinsky was meeting a very specific brief from choreographer George Balanchine.

If Agon is not often performed  – the last time I recall hearing the work was when Nicholas Kok stepped in to conduct the orchestra of Scottish Ballet at the Edinburgh Festival in 2006 – it is surely partly because it is so purpose-built. However, its focus on the number 12 does not refer only to the company of dancers it was written for, as well as to the dozen short movements it contains, but also to the notes of the chromatic scale and their equal status in the serialism of Arnold Schoenberg and his associates.

READ MORE: Review: RSNO/Qian, RSNO Centre, Glasgow Royal Concert Hall

Stravinsky, typically, does his own thing with those ideas, and it is probably significant that Schoenberg had died a couple of years before he wrote Agon. What Wigglesworth and the SSO clearly enjoyed was the way the composer constantly varies the orchestration with brass and percussion often characteristically to the fore but the strings also having the stage to themselves in some of the most attractive music.

All of which prepared the way nicely for The Rite of Spring in the second half, dance music that is much more often heard in the concert hall than Nijinsky’s ballet is seen. From the opening bassoon call – beautifully realised here by guest principal Emily Hultmark – to the pulsing rhythmic climax, The Rite is a work that has a compelling musical narrative even if the story of the dance is almost as abstract as that of Agon.

Wigglesworth’s way with the work was not likely to provoke a riot – if indeed any such thing happened at its Paris premiere in 1913 – but it was exciting enough, with immaculately measured performances everywhere in the expanded ensemble.