In this hotch-potch of a programme by the BBC SSO, there was at one feature of engaging curiosity. This was Su, a single movement concerto for sheng and orchestra by South Korean composer Unsuk Chin.
The sheng is an extraordinary instrument, a centuries-old vertical Chinese mouth organ, ornately designed, and capable – through recent modernising improvements – of playing complex clusters of notes, a facility that Chin homes in on in her evocative, often exotic, score.
It was played by the sheng’s best-known exponent, Berlin-based Wu Wei, whose mastery of its reedy tone quality served the music well, from the mellifluous web of shifting chords that shimmered in tandem with the ethereal orchestral textures, to the pungent rhythmic interaction that builds in intensity as this strongly characterised work progresses.
It was here that Wu Wei turned into some kind of rock demon, bopping from side to side, whipping up a frenzy of toe-tapping excitement.
The entire programme operated under the baton of Markus Stenz, whose shaping of the concerto allowed its delicious colours to breath warmly and disperse. In the other two works, however, the results were mixed.
Schumann’s Second Symphony – a difficult beast to breathe life into at the best of times – bristled in the Scherzo and Finale, but sagged dispiritedly in the other movements. The Adagio seemed more endlessly monothematic than it is.
Strauss’ Till Eulenspiegel was compellingly mercurial and mischievous, qualities offset by brashness and untidiness in balance and texture, as if it was one rehearsal short of a good performance.