Classical review: BBC SSO: Rachmaninov Symphonic Dances, Glasgow

I LOVE those moments in concerts where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
The BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. Picture: ContributedThe BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. Picture: Contributed
The BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. Picture: Contributed

BBC SSO: Rachmaninov Symphonic Dances | Rating: **** | City Halls, Glasgow

It happened in the first half of the BBC SSO’s programme, which coupled Charles Ives’ enigmatic The Unanswered Question – a kind of existential musing in the context of early to-mid 20th-century musical turmoil – with Brett Dean’s ballsy statement of 21st-century confidence, his trumpet concerto Dramatis personae, which ends with a musical “car accident” as raucously chaotic as if Ives had come back from the dead to pose his question anew.

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The link was inspired, as were the performances under Michael Francis’ sharp and efficient direction. The spatial dimensions of the Ives – the distant but increasingly insistent solo trumpet in the audience gallery, the increasingly discordant flute responses up in the choir stalls, against the sonic blank canvas of strings on stage – were a theatrical thrill.

So was Dean’s concerto, written for and played by charismatic trumpeter Hakan Hardenberger, built around three tableaux that explore the multiple facets of the soloist: a kind of comic strip caricature in the opening Fall of a Superhero, flirtatious and gloriously self-defeating; the rapt musings of the gorgeous Soliloquy; and the anarchic finale, The Accidental Revolutionary, inspired by Charlie Chaplin’s film Modern Times, where wit and anarchy reign supreme, the soloist eventually taking refuge among the orchestral trumpets amid the Ivesian riot of the closing bars.

In the second half, Rachmaninov’s Symphonic Dances lacked spark and precision. Moments to savour; but disappointing as a whole.

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