BBC SSO/Collon

City Halls, Glasgow

THE space and acoustic of Glasgow’s City Hall was another crucial player, alongside the members of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and conductor Nicholas Collon, in the performance that opened Thursday afternoon’s radio concert.

Grazyna Bacewicz’s Music for Strings, Trumpets, and Percussion is something of a classic of 20th century Polish music, dating from a time in 1958 when the Soviet hold on creativity there was loosening its grip. Bacewicz and her better-known contemporary Witold Lutoslawski were able to have some more progressive music performed, and Lutoslawski’s Funeral Music for strings is of the same year. It is explicitly dedicated to Bela Bartok and the similarity of Bacewicz’s title to Bartok’s Music for Strings, Percussion and Celeste suggests the Hungarian composer was at least on her mind.

Perhaps she is less well-known in the West because, although prolific, she did not forge onwards as Lutoslawski did, but this 20 minute work deserves to he heard more often, and as sonorously as it could be appreciated here. Preceding Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony, it was possible to hear some pastoral moments, but much more nature red in tooth and claw, and really this is abstract music, concerned with the tonalities of the instruments involved.

While there was some militaristic brass, the five trumpets also showed flashes of being a big band section, especially when muted towards the eerie ending of the second, central movement. It is chiefly the eloquent writing for the low strings that really distinguishes the score, however, and the SSO players provided real richness of tone.

Collon’s account of Beethoven’s Pastoral also boasted a lovely clarity of sound, immediately appreciable in the entry of the winds in the first movement, and in some surprisingly staccato propulsive cellos. Although there is a wealth of melody in the whole work, Beethoven stretches the material in the second movement a long way, and the conductor’s relaxed pace seemed to draw attention to that until the very pronounced birdcalls at its end.

The storm that follows was all the more dramatic as a result, but the whole arc of the piece seemed a little askew, as was something in the orchestral intonation at the start of the finale, in a performance that never sounded entirely sure of its shape.
Keith Bruce