Frans who, I hear you cry, or possibly not. Certainly the name was unknown to me prior to Thursday (or, at least, prior to my filling out the booking form). Which made it all the more surprising to see a stool on the podium, normally only there for conductors of advancing years, and the older a conductor the more likely it is that one has heard of them. However, as Wikipeida confirms, he is in his early 70s, though the page adds little else to the sum total of human knowledge, a better biography can be found here.
A very tall man, well over 6 feet, he fitted himself into the stool slightly awkwardly, given the space available, and launched into the all Mendelssohn programme with the Overture: The Fair Melusine. This was nice enough, and unknown to me, but didn't seem to stand out as one of Mendelssohn's finest works. What stood out immediately, though, was how much sharper and more disciplined the orchestral playing was than under Fischer last Saturday. However, at times, when the score really caught fire, it made fore a very entertaining performance. He further won me over when, after the overture, rather than swanning on and off milking the applause like some (Mr Tilson Thomas, I'm talking to you), he sat straight back down and switched over to the next score.
That score being the violin concerto. After a few moments he was joined onstage by the young and, it must be noted, very attractive German soloist Viviane Hagner. Actually, I'm not sure her attractiveness must be noted, that's probably rather chauvinistic, still, in her bright, flowered, I suppose oriental in its styling, dress, she was certainly easy on the eyes. All of which would be neither here nor there if she couldn't play well. But play well she certainly can. And with what incredible passion, so much so that strings were breaking on her bow left, right and centre (and she had to keep ripping them off whenever she got a pause). Indeed, it is possible this took its toll as to these ears, by the end of the piece, she seemed to have gone fractionally out of tune, but not so much as to be a problem. Beneath this, Bruggen provided superbly judged accompaniment and support. There was little pause between movements (something that actually works much better than the comparatively pronounced pauses on the CD I was listening to this afternoon). It was well received and she gave us an encore, which she actually introduced but all I caught was "Milstein" (a quick google indicates he was a violinist, but gives no indication as to what the piece might have been). It was pleasant enough, but I was firmly of the opinion it rather spoilt things. The ending of the Mendelssohn is so fine, nothing more needs to be said.
After the interval it was the turn of, perhaps predictably, given the location, the 3rd 'Scottish' symphony. If I'm honest, I'm no great fan of this work, much preferring both the 'Italian' 4th and the 'Reformation' 5th. But Bruggen won me over with a wonderful reading. An excellent precision to the playing of the SCO, such that it made its absence from Fischer's performance even more noticeable. Intensely passionate and yet light hearted when required, this was the SCO at their very best, and a reading that has fully won me over to the work.
I've been a little lukewarm about the concerts so far this season, even going so far as wonder whether block booking was a mistake, but this has reminded me why I did it. In contrast to Elts' Sibelius and Fischer's Beethoven, I might have passed this by, and that would have been a mistake. In truth, Bruggen did have it slightly easier than Fischer and Elts, as I know the repertoire far less well. And yet, I've heard plenty of 'Scottish' symphonies before without being won over.
It also answers the question posed at the start of this post: is Bruggen unfairly unknown? To which the answer must be an emphatic yes. Let's hope he returns.