Ravel in Glasgow

2006-11-27 / The Herald / Michael Tumelty

When the Swedish conductor Stefan Solyom made his official debut as associate guest conductor to the BBC SSO earlier this year with an incandescent account of Sibelius’s Second Symphony, I observed that the SSO had struck it lucky with another fine exponent of Sibelius’s supreme symphonic music joining the house team.
If I had ever doubted that assessment (and I haven’t), any uncertainty would have been blown away by Solyom’s extraordinary interpretation of the First Symphony, which secured from the SSO a performance of electric immediacy such as only this band can produce. Solyom released a volcanic vision of the symphony: pent-up, earthy and almost brash in its orchestration and the near violence of its mood swings. If ever the principle of long-range tension and release was embodied in a musical performance, then it was in this one, a scorching and exhausting experience.
But that wasn’t the half of it, in a concert that opened with Solyom’s gripping and, ultimately, blazing version of Sibelius’s Nightride and Sunrise, and contained at its heart a glittering, soulful and endlessly colourful performance of Ravel’s Piano Concerto, with the great pianist Angela Hewitt demonstrating that she can be as sexy and provocative in this gorgeous, ravishing music as she is cool and elegant in the music of Bach. She also gave a classic demonstration of democratic playing in the slow movement, where, often, it is neither the devil nor the pianist but the woodwind that has the best tunes. A great night for music; and for us.