City Hall, Glasgow


Although the man himself didn’t seem fazed by the turnout, Finnish violinist and conductor Pekka Kuusisto deserved a larger audience at the final concert of his spring residency with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra.

Not only is he a star attraction, the program included the Scottish premiere of a concerto written for him by one of America’s current crop of young composing stars, Nick Malley, and the other soloist on the bill was British tenor-of-the-moment Alan Clayton.

All of these ingredients come together in Mouli’s opening piece, Three Songs for Tenor and Violin, which features sensual mid-twentieth-century poems by André Breton and Jacques-Bernard Brunius. With the orchestral strings creating a quiet humming underscoring, Clayton’s first vocal entry was a masterclass in soft precision, and this high level of performance was one he maintained throughout the evening. There’s a reason why the male tenor voice is so highly regarded by composers of all genres, and Clayton demonstrates that it can be awe-inspiring in such a relaxed style.

The role of Kuusist’s violin in the piece hinted at the crazier Muhli that would come at the beginning of the second half of the concert. Titled Shrink, the concerto also used only the SCO strings required to create the exacting blend of pizzicato and string accompaniment to the soloist’s virtuoso line. There is a memory of the earlier drone style comkeiposer – and his duty to music Philip Glass – in the slower passages, but the main interest is the smooth upper line, the conversation with the orchestra leader Joel Bardoletto and the constantly evolving musical ideas based on different harmonic intervals.

Between the two works, Muli Kuusista programmed Haydn’s last symphony, a work that clearly laid the foundations for the composers who came after him, notably Beethoven. However, at the opening of the “Spiritoso” finale, Kuusista – leading “with” rather than “from” the violin, as Bardale was also in his place in the symphony – found a bagpipe-like opening note that was clearly related to Muhli.

For the final piece of the concert, Benjamin Britten’s Les Illuminations, Kuusista was clearly both leader and conductor, with a pedestal to perform. Britten wrote covers of Arthur Rimbaud poems for his partner Peter Geers, but it would not be sacrilegious to suggest that Clayton’s interpretation of the work may be the gold standard. The range of his tones and timbres was impressive, and the closing song Départ left the hall without oxygen for a few moments before the applause broke out.

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