City Halls, Glasgow
Musical dynasties can be problematic for some, but not, it would seem, in the case of conductor Michael Sanderling, son of Kurt and brother/step brother of fellow conductors Stefan and Thomas. He proved his independent worth, without question, in the driving seat of the BBC SSO last week.
The former cellist – and one of considerable, international prizewinning note before he picked up the baton full time just over a decade ago – established instant chemistry with the orchestra in a relatively youthful symphony by Mozart, his 13th, written mostly in Milan at the age of 15. Sanderling wasted no time sourcing a stylish bite from the players – just horns and oboes in addition to the reduced strings – that captured the music’s exuberant decency.
It was a neat touch reducing the Menuetto’s trio section to solo strings, giving added intimacy to this airborne movement, and in the broader context of a performance that packed no shortage of musical surprises and delights, from the teasing tunefulness of the Andante to the rhythmic dash of the outer movements.
Mozart featured again in this affable afternoon concert, as seen through the thicker lens of heavy-duty German Romantic composer and academic Max Reger, his Variations and Fugue on a Theme of Mozart. The theme in question is the siciliano-like opener from the A Major Sonata, which in Mozart’s hands was already subjected to exhaustive variation. Reger, as you’d expect, deals with it in more circumspect, a times torrid, terms.
Sanderling never once allowed dark clouds to assert their presence, instead giving a fleetness of foot to Reger’s restless harmonic contortions – some pretty ingenious ones at that – and therefore freer flight to internal chromatic meanderings that, in less-intuitive hands, might so easily have muddied the momentum. Such, too, was the refinement and grace of the orchestral colourings that the journey towards the concluding fugue, and its exultant closing restatement of the Mozart theme, was one of several thrills and much overall satisfaction.
Coming back to musical families, the afternoon’s solo spot was filled by one of the many prodigious Kanneh-Mason siblings currently in circulation. This was Isata, a pianist of growing stature and musical maturity, as witnessed in recent previous appearances in Scotland. She featured this time in Prokofiev’s Third Piano Concerto, noted for its bristling energy and dynamic physicality, but also for the quintessential mysticism that offers some spellbinding contrast in the central movement.
Kanneh-Mason’s performance was beautifully poised and not without fire. She doesn’t yet have the full shoulder power to fully address the ferocious dimensions of this concerto, but the fiery agility of her finger work compensated, and where gentle reflection was called for she delivered it with poetic perfection.