BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra

10.12.09
Donald Runnicles
The Scotsman

By Kenneth Walton

FEARS of a wafer-thin audience for last night's homecoming concert by Donald Runnicles, in his new capacity as chief conductor of the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, disappeared at the 11th hour as hundreds formed a last-minute queue for tickets that snaked its way outside the Usher Hall, delaying the start of the concert by ten minutes.

No-one could have been disappointed by what followed. Runnicles lived up to the hype that has followed him back to his home city, delivering performances of Beethoven, Berg and Mahler that had the 1,000-plus crowd cheering and stamping with spontaneous delight. Each work in this wholesome Austro-German programme held an individual fascination, revealing the many sides of Runnicles' forceful musicianship.


Pinpoint precision and textural detail were the alluring hallmarks of Beethoven's Symphony No 1, which the former San Francisco Opera supremo coloured with masterly idiosyncratic brushstrokes – a will-o'-the-wisp delicacy in the andante, and a feel for the overall shape that was both expansive and highly sensitised.

Berg's luxuriant Seven Early Songs introduced us to the breathtaking voice of the young American soprano Heidi Melton, whose seamless lyricism floated effortlessly over the molten restlessness of Berg's golden orchestrations.

Then Runnicles took us to the swirling peaks and troughs of Mahler's Symphony No 1, and an epic, measured performance that matched fragile anticipation and aching tranquility with the fulminating torment and triumph of the symphony's final moments. For those who missed it, Thursday's Glasgow performance is broadcast on Radio 3 tonight.