High on the list of Donald Runnicles' many talents is his skill as an opera conductor. It is therefore good news when the BBC SSO programme something that enables him to showcase this. Like last year's Wagner, we once again didn't get a full opera, but the selection they presented from Richard Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier was no less satisfying for it.
The hour or so of music that Runnicles had chosen both contained key highlights, such as the presentation of the rose, but also preserved the core narrative and flowed convincingly in dramatic terms. In addition, his keen sense of theatre ensured that the singers acted rather than just standing on stage, so, to take one example among many, we saw poignant glances back towards Octavian from Twyla Robinson's Marschallin as she exited.
The cast of singers assembled, which also included Lucy Crowe as Sophie and Daniela Sindram (appropriately costumed for her trouser role) was hard to fault, unless of course you particularly missed the male parts, which had been edited out entirely.
The combination of Runnicles' conducting and the orchestra's playing was similarly a treat throughout, from the frantic intensity of the introduction to the glittering beauty of the rose, with sumptuous richness just about everywhere else. The final duet between Sophie and Octavian brought an emotionally charged evening to a moving close.
It was good that they had opted for surtitles (though we also got the full text in the programme). This significantly enhances the experience of concert opera and it is to be hoped that the Edinburgh Festival adopts the practice too.
As if the Strauss wasn't enough, the concert also marked the return of Vilde Frang. The young Norwegian violinist first came to my attention a little over a year ago when she stood in for an indisposed Janine Jansen in Sibelius's violin concerto. (That concert too featured Runnicles, the BBC SSO and some concerto opera, in that case the first act of Die Walkure.) I wrote then that it was one of the most impressive performances of the concerto that I've heard, so I was very glad to see her returning when the BBC SSO announced their programme in April. This time round she brought Mozart's 5th violin concerto. It wouldn't necessarily be my first choice to hear, and yet with its much lighter sound world, it made an ideal companion to the Strauss. Frang provided a rich and characterful solo performance, full of energy. Her dazzling technical skill was most apparent during the cadenzas, but she was a treat to listen to throughout. Runnicles had paired the orchestra down to more or less chamber mode and they were suitably nimble beneath her. Hopefully we'll see her back again soon, as the performance further establishes her as one of my favourite violinists.
That last paragraph of the review is dedicated to 'the man on the bus'. On Friday afternoon, I received an unusual text from my friend Alison saying a stranger had asked her to ask my opinion about a violinist whose name she hadn't caught but possibly began with a V who might have played the previous night. I still haven't got to the bottom of the intriguing story that presumably lies behind this, but I hope that if the man on the bus is reading this, it answers his question.
The concert was broadcast live on Radio 3 and, until Thursday, you can listen again via the iPlayer.