There is something very special about the Sunday afternoon concerts at the Usher Hall. You arrive rested after a leisurely Sunday morning, and you don’t drop off to sleep as sometimes happens during an evening concert! And when the concert is given by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra conducted by Donald Runnicles, you know you are in for an afternoon treat.
Runnicles recently said farewell to the BBC SSO, as Principal Conductor of the orchestra, at the Edinburgh International Festival, fifty years after first appearing there as a young chorister. Yet, here he is three months later, back as Conductor Emeritus: it’s as if he hasn’t been away!
When Runnicles is in charge, there is no doubt that the BBC SSO are the best orchestra in Scotland; indeed they could very well be among the best in Britain. The beauty and precision of their playing this afternoon is a delight, and of course it helps that they are playing ravishing music by Mozart and Mahler throughout.
We are also very fortunate to be graced by the wonderful soprano Carolyn Sampson, who is supreme in Mozart’s Exsultate, jubilate and his Voi avete un cor fedele, but not quite so good in the choral section of Mahler’s Fourth Symphony. Sampson is probably more at home in Opera than in Leider, and it is difficult to sing as beautifully in German as it is in Italian.
Mahler loved Mozart above all other composers. There is no doubt that this relationship inspired Mahler to create wonderful music, and his Fourth Symphony, which we are hearing today, has some beautiful passages, some of which appear in Visconti’s great film Death In Venice.
In Runnicles’ hand, the orchestra plays the symphony exquisitely, and at the end he holds the Usher Hall audience in his raised hands for almost a minute of silence, to honour this great music. It is a very special Sunday afternoon concert, and we all leave uplifted.