Sunday, June 26, 2022

Music Criticism: BBC SSO & Thomas Dausgaard, City Halls, Glasgow

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A program by Nielsen and Bartók saw Thomas Dausgaard draw a wealth of riches from the SSO, writes Ken Walton

BBC SSO & Thomas Dausgaard, City Hall, Glasgow ****

Did Thomas Dausgaard save the best for last? In the six years that he has been Principal Conductor of the BBC SSO I cannot recall any performances where he and the orchestra have felt so at one; where the commonality of purpose was so direct, so intense, so instinctive, that the music (particularly in this concert, Carl Nielsen’s warmhearted Second Symphony) erupted in a multiple explosion of hilarity, melancholy, and even touches of madness. Ironically, next week’s concert represents his last home appearance in office.

Thursday’s program was balanced, the Nielsen, short and snappy, a welcome complement to the defining narrative and imagery of Bartók’s ballet music The Wooden Prince, performed here in the composer’s abridged 1932 version. And where the former, subtitled The Four Temperaments, made no apologies for its single-minded symphonic intent, Bartok’s music reveled in its riot of influences, from the billowing warmth of Wagnerian opening, to moments of unalloyed Debussy and Stravinsky, to closing bars brimming with late-Romantic splendor.

Dausgaard drew a wealth of riches from the SSO, be it through the sharpness of the strings, the often exotic interplay of the winds, the punch of the brass, even the musical bling emanating from Bartok’s duet celesta. It was a rousing performance, enhanced by the grotesqueness of the story – a prince fashioning himself into a puppet to woo a princess whose response is in the puppet’s favour, albeit just a touch of electrifying effect.

That was reserved for the Nielsen, whose opening was immediately brutal and blunt, signaling the vitality and intensity unfolding in a depiction of the four “humors” – choleric, phlegmatic, melancholic and sanguine – based on caricatures the composer produced in a Pub had watched wall. Dausgaard is known for his pathos, dynamism and sardonic essence.

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