A traditionally formatted Proms programme from Thomas Dausgaard and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra had added value by the inclusion of a Nielsen symphony that rarely gets an outing and a young pianist whose career is most certainly in the ascendant. 

Thomas Dausgaard conducts the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
© BBC | Mark Allan

A rather over-fussy rendition of Ravel’s La Valse kicked off the evening, however. This is a work that has become even more ubiquitous than Boléro in the concert hall and usually hits its mark. The oiliness of these Viennese waltzes gradually have vinegar added to them by way of discordant passages, until the whole concoction goes completely sour. In performance it is most effective to keep the waltz tempo line steady and not to over-egg the whole schmaltzy scenario as Dausgaard did here. The final apocalyptic outburst was pretty impactful, but it felt out of place, as the preparation towards it wasn’t organic enough.

The performance of Beethoven's Piano Concerto no. 1 in C major that followed was on a totally different musical level. Dausgaard and the BBCSO were, by turns, punchy and delicate in their accompaniment. This mirrored the relaxed, natural musicality of Behzod Abduraimov, who didn’t put a foot wrong in his warm account of the work. Abduraimov possesses a fine technique and it always seemed to be at the service of the music. Everything about his interpretation was balanced between dynamism and subtlety. He was particularly fine in the glories of the slow movement, finding a new colour in every phrase. The finale, taken at quite a lick, was effortlessly playful and he never pushed the tricksy rhythms and unexpected accents beyond their classical confines. A quixotic Prokofiev encore, Mercutio from Romeo and Juliet, completed the picture of a very fine young artist.

Behzod Abduraimov and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
© BBC | Mark Allan

Nielsen’s Third Symphony, his Sinfonia espansiva, completed the evening with style. Dausgaard is in his natural habitat conducting music by his compatriot and he certainly put the Viking back into Nielsen here in a bold, daring account of this unfairly neglected work. More expansive, as the title suggests, than the composer's most popular symphony, The Inextinguishable, it has the same wildness at its core and determination to find the light. In the first movement the powerful opening dissolves into apparent ramblings and the woodwind’s quirky interchanges were particularly characterful. The brass were equally distinctive in the louder passages and the result sounded authentically Danish, with Dausgaard refusing to smooth the edges to make the movement sound more Germanic. 

Thomas Dausgaard conducts the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
© BBC | Mark Allan

The slow movement is one of the joys of Nielsen’s output, its passionate course crowned ecstatically by the melismatic keening of a solo soprano and baritone, here sung atmospherically in the gallery by Elizabeth Watts and Benjamin Appl. The Finale features a noble tune that is both heroic yet somehow homespun. It is transformed into various guises, finally finding a full-throated, smiling face. As always with Nielsen, there is nothing grandiose or pompous about this positive conclusion. Dausgaard found just the right tone and pacing here, as he did throughout this fabulous performance and the orchestra responded with boldness and evident pleasure. 

****1