Review: BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Usher Hall

Martin Fr�st played Mozart's K.622 work for clarinet faultlessly
Martin Fr�st played Mozart's K.622 work for clarinet faultlessly
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Mozart wrote more than forty concertos – mostly for his own use as a pianist. The width of his attainment in the form and its sustained high level of quality cannot be matched by any other composer.

*****

K.622 for clarinet is the last of a series of over forty works. It was completed just months before the composer’s death, but its atmosphere does not reflect his poor state of health and domestic anxieties.

Using a “basset” clarinet, which adds notes to the bottom register of the instrument, Martin Fröst performed faultlessly. His range of dynamic control was astounding and he added some well-turned embellishments. In the slow movement he captured the atmosphere of sublime calm which Mozart’s simple writing conveys.

It is easy enough to find reasons why Bruckner’s nine symphonies have not always counted among the most accessible in the general repertoire of the concert hall. Their size might seem daunting to listeners who expect about 40 minutes of playing time.

The seventh is probably the most approachable. It has been described by one commentator as “the most popular and surely the most beautiful of all Bruckner’s symphonies”.

Maestro Runnicles made it clear from the opening bars that he had it in mind to observe the composer’s “moderato” instruction while still maintaining the onward drive of the music. His tempi were kept very well under control and particular care was taken to observe sharpness of rhythms and clarity of texture.

Sixty years ago, shortly after the creation of the Scottish National Orchestra, musical director Walter Susskind had to seek help from one of the West Lothian brass bands in order to bring in extra players to perform the Wagner tuba parts – which add a measure of originality to Bruckner’s symphonic soundscape, not least in the slow movement.

As in the eighth symphony, the scherzo of the seventh is a juggernaut that gains impetus from the insistent rhythm of its opening. While underlining sharp contrasts, Runnicles took good care to ensure that the music should avoid becoming ponderous. He has a remarkably well-balanced grasp of the Bruckner idiom.