BBC SSO, City Halls, Glasgow

05.09.12
Donald Runnicles
Herald Scotland

By Keith Bruce

Although there was a neat continuity between the chamber music concert the previous afternoon with conductor Donald Runnicles at the piano and cello soloist Martin Storey, on the face of it Osvaldo Golijov's elegaic Mariel and Bruckner's epic Seventh Symphony made for odd bedfellows to wrap up the weekend of celebration of the SSO's chief conductor.

In fact they were linked by rich orchestration and, tangentially, faith. For anyone who heard Dawn Upshaw with the Andalucian Dogs ensemble downstairs in the Old Fruitmarket almost exactly three years previously, Golijov's musical signature was instantly recognisable. The plaintive quality of the solo cello in the composer's response to the death of a friend was one thing, but it was the context of his distinctive arrangement, using every element of a vast orchestra that made the piece special. That, and the way it ends on an edge before either desperate grief or the consolation of faith will kick in.

Anton Bruckner, of course, held deep religious convictions and his writing sits with Wagner and Mahler as the fullest expression of the power of a symphony orchestra. The popularity of his Symphony No7 of 1883 is based largely on the Adagio second movement and third movement Scherzo and Trio, and Runnicles did not seem interested in making the work seem other than segmented, in what was the first performance of it by the BBC Scottish since 1975. From the opening theme, however, where the cellos and violas in unison sounded almost like a single horn, it was clear that this was to be the bow-wielders' day. We have always known that the SSO has great soloists in the winds and brass, but Runnicles has the orchestra's strings playing better than ever.