BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra / Christine Brewer/City Halls, Glasgow

03.23.10
Donald Runnicles
The Scotsman

By Ken Walton

EVER wondered what special something Donald Runnicles would bring to his chief conductorship of the BBC SSO? Look no further than the musical spectacular that is this weekend's programme.

Would mezzo soprano Christine Brewer ever have been enticed to Scotland without Runnicles' influence? Probably not. And as a result we might never have experienced the ravishing performance she gave of Richard Strauss songs, wrapped up in a programme of Wagner and Beethoven that was every bit the match of Brewer's stature and presence.

But to the Strauss first, and a series of six songs that explore a world of heartfelt emotion, from the ethereal atmospherics of Ruhe meine Seele to the rapt openness of Besreit, and the luscious warmth of Zweignung.

In a display of effortless beauty and wholesome persuasiveness, Brewer coloured every song with its own delicious character, the exquisite molten power of her voice carrying over the orchestra even in the most hushed phrases and filling the music at every turn with fresh thoughts and insight. As for an encore – Morgen, with its tear-inducing violin solo–was there ever an alternative? Sheer magic.

Of course, this is music that Runnicles himself lives for. He is nothing if not a singer's conductor. No matter what Brewer did with these gorgeous songs, he was there with her, shaping their subtleties with instant empathy. With the SSO responding likewise, the whole experience was quite simply unforgettable.

Wagner's Overture and Venusberg Music from Tannhäuser provided a perfect prelude to the Strauss, the noble delicacy of its hymn-like opening hinting at the gushing theatrical whirlwind that follows.

Runnicles played it straight down the middle with Beethoven's Symphony No 7, which was rock solid and meaty. This programme is repeated in Edinburgh tomorrow night. Don't miss it.