Music: BBC SSO, City Hall, Glasgow

Keith Bruce, four stars

WITH programming that was spookily parallel to the London Symphony Orchestra’s season-opening concert at the Barbican a fortnight earlier, the SSO’s celebration of British music also sadly illustrated the difficulty in attracting an audience that the Rattle ingredient overcame there. Even the presence of Scotland’s star mezzo Karen Cargill performing Elgar’s lovely Sea Pictures was not enough to put bottoms on many seats in the hall, although there were doubtless attentive ears tuned in to the live broadcast on BBC Radio 3.

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The music of Elgar, whose Adagio for strings, Sospiri, preceded the song cycle, was one common thread with the LSO concert, and so was the late addition of a Scottish fanfare to give the concert a more bracing beginning. In tribute to the late John Maxwell Geddes, who died earlier this month, the SSO’s brass, horns and percussion and conductor Martyn Brabbins repeated the composer’s Let Glasgow Flourish, which opened the Commonwealth Games Classics Marathon concert in the summer of 2014.

The meat of the evening, however, was the Third Symphony of Michael Tippett, the composer’s wonderful 20th century response to Mahler and Beethoven’s Ninth. Soprano Rachel Nicholls, replacing Elizabeth Watts, stole the limelight here, her performance (close miked, as per the score) perfectly capturing the demanding mix of the operatic, sprechgesang and Bessie Smith blues.

Her foil in that latter role was principal trumpet Mark O’Keeffe, while the leader of the violas, Scott Dickinson, was the main soloist elsewhere in what was a superb performance of a brilliantly orchestrated ensemble work. The horn fanfare at the start of Part Two was ideally pre-figured by the Geddes at the concert’s start, while the prominence of the brass throughout also coincidentally teed up Brabbins’s direction of some of his own music at Sir James MacMillan’s Cumnock Tryst on Saturday.