BBC SSO / Lintu

City Halls, Glasgow

The dynamic of the symphony orchestra is a peculiar thing. Here, in its regular Thursday evening Glasgow slot, at its home venue (even if the completion of roof repairs had meant rehearsal at Tramway), was a very unfamiliar-looking BBC Scottish, with guest principals in much of the wind section and elsewhere, without its usual leader, and with less-than-regular guest conductor (Finn Hannu Lintu) and piano soloist (American Garrick Ohlsson). Yet the result was a classic SSO concert, with its strengths in all the places you might expect to find them.

The repertoire perhaps explained both that and the good attendance, with Brahms’ last symphony  preceded by Grieg’s perennially-popular Piano Concerto. The exotica was provided by Rautavarra’s Lintukoto (Isle of Bliss), which opened the programme and sat more comfortably with music of the previous century than might have been expected.

Although its sonic palette was quickly recognisable, the pace and tone of this short tone-poem are very different from more often heard works by the Finnish composer and the first bars are almost frantic. There are big sweeps of unison strings, but counterpoint between the sections as well, and some lovely detailing in the horns, winds, and muted brass before principal trumpet Mark O’Keeffe had haunting solo towards the end.

The Fourth Symphony of Johannes Brahms, which concluded the concert, is arguably his most Beethovian, with few notes being made to do a lot of work in the first, second and last movements and the only expansive tune appearing in the overture-like third. Lintu’s account of the symphony was business-like rather than inspired, although again some of the detail along the way was sumptuous, especially the blend of horns and the other winds with the pizzicato strings in the Andante.

The highlight of the evening was the Grieg, which was everything the old warhorse should be. Ohlsson is not a man to be rushed, as his playing of the first movement cadenza made clear, but there was a terrific balance between the relaxed fluidity of his playing and the crispness Lintu asked for from the strings. The conductor was alive to the work’s use of semitone intervals and rhythmic structures at parallel points in each of its movements, so that the concerto came alive as a narrative, and any problems of the fragmentary nature of the finale were swept aside.

As a lovely bonus, Ohlsson brought the same skilful sense of phrasing – and then some – to Chopin’s best-known Waltz, by way of an encore.

Keith Bruce

Pictured: Garrick Ohlsson by Dario Acosta