Classical review: BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra

Peter Donohoe: a 'romping performance' with the BBC SSO. Picture: Contributed
Peter Donohoe: a 'romping performance' with the BBC SSO. Picture: Contributed
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ITHERE’S nothing enigmatic or necessarily deep about James MacMillan’s Piano Concerto No 2, as Peter Donohoe’s romping performance with the BBC SSO proved.

BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra

City Halls, Glasgow

***

It plays like a class comedy act, MacMillan’s irreverent parodying of Scots reels and airs to Donizetti arias, with perhaps a little bloated pseudo-Rachmaninov and drunken Stravinsky for good measure, on incessant overdrive.

Written in 2004 as a ballet score, and effectively an extended version of his cartoonesque fantasy piece, Cumnock Fair, MacMillan combines his own charismatic wit with the parodic influences of Maxwell Davies (the dissolving of innocent folk dances into giddy harmonic oblivion) and Schnittke (a language of grotesque, extreme irony).

Bringing it off requires utter self-belief. Donohoe’s power-driven performance centred 100 per cent on it’s pantomime value, clearly enjoying the opportunity to pound out, literally, angry fistfuls of notes. It seemed over-hurried, over-long in places, but it made me laugh. That, I guess, is its obvious purpose.

The concert, conducted by Andrew Litton, opened with Israfel, a new work by the young Mark Simpson, whose confident style – an easeful implant of snarling dissonance within a broader traditional structural framework and cinematic ripeness – will be interesting to follow as he develops his new role as Composer in Association with the BBC Philharmonic.

Rachmaninov’s Symphony No 2 was not the fulfilling concert climax it should have been. Despite a singularly moving slow movement, Litton’s approach lacked the all-important fluidity of pacing and subtlety of instrumental balance necessary to capture the symphony’s emotional essence.