Runnicles: BBC SSO, Usher Hall

08.13.12
Donald Runnicles
Herald Scotland

By Michael Tumelty

I HAD a very odd experience on Saturday night in the Usher Hall.

I was approached by Herald readers who were awe-stricken by what they had just experienced in a majestic and magical performance of Richard Strauss's graphic and epic symphonic poem, The Alpine Symphony. I met Herald readers who couldn't speak through the tears that flowed following the extraordinary playing of the BBC SSO under Donald Runnicles in this great masterpiece. And, most humbling, I met a cadre of readers who said they hadn't known the piece and had turned up because of the persistent advocacy of The Alpine Symphony in the paper over the past few years.

What we heard on Saturday was worth every word and paragraph, and I trust all of these good folk, along with the rest of the near-capacity audience, did not feel short-changed. It was a defining, quintessential opulence and blazing incandescence.

But it was much more than that. Though the pictorial, wide-screen, surround-sound demands of the score were addressed in a characteristically-textured Runnicles canvas, there was an intellectual integrity to the interpretation of The Alpine Symphony which should be underlined. The entire colossal opus is fashioned from very few thematic motives which themselves populate early the surface of the score.

Runnicles's performance, in its entirety, was based on a fundamental awareness of the integrity of these elements. And that is why the SSO performance, so rich and faithful, as it had been in the earlier performance of Beethoven's Pastoral Symphony, was as true as it was. A great night for the band.