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BBCSSO/Runnicles, City Halls, Glasgow

10.03.10
Donald Runnicles
Financial Times

By Andrew Clark

There are four orchestras in central Scotland, all struggling for position in a shrinking market. One of them, the Orchestra of Scottish Opera, has just agreed to go part-time. The other three would gladly gobble up its work, but no one will admit that a three-orchestra solution is the logical way forward. When Scottish Opera was founded in the early 1960s, it hired the services of the Scottish National Orchestra and Scottish Chamber Orchestra. A similar arrangement could be revived, in rotation with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, whose first event of the new season included a sizable operatic chunk – Act 1 of Die Walküre.

Barring a single concert at last year’s Edinburgh festival, Wagner has not been heard in Scotland since 2005. In its present cash-strapped configuration, Scottish Opera is unlikely to perform his work ever again. In Donald Runnicles, the BBCSSO has a chief conductor who just happens to be an opera man through and through, as the theatrical qualities of this Walküre first act blatantly revealed. Are there not grounds for synergy here – if not with Scottish Opera, then at least with the Edinburgh festival?

Runnicles, a Scot whose Wagner at Bayreuth, San Francisco and elsewhere has been justly acclaimed, had his BBC orchestra playing as if Die Walküre was its birthright: their performance had electricity, nuance, finesse, belief. Runnicles had also signed up three front-rank Wagnerian soloists. Stuart Skelton sang Siegmund with a freshness and focus that allowed the detailed meaning of the words to come across. Heidi Melton’s Sieglinde radiated warmth and intelligence. Reinhard Hagen was the excellent Hunding.

Wagner will not feature on the BBC SSO’s 75th anniversary tour to Germany and Austria later this month, but Sibelius will – in the shape of Vilde Frang’s performance of the Violin Concerto. The young Norwegian has less platform presence than her Scottish contemporary, Nicola Benedetti, but more individuality in the way she plays. She didn’t just ape her impressive new EMI recording: what we heard was more inward and intimate, giving the music a rare purity and vulnerability, if not ideal spaciousness or depth.