Classical review: St Magnus: BBC SO Strings & Mayfield Singers, Kirkwall

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ALTHOUGH the choral element of Tuesday evening’s concert given by the BBS SO Strings and Orkney’s Mayfield Singers was minimal, the sounds of the choir’s opening Third Tune for Archbishop Parker’s Psalter by Tallis presented a musical statement that resonated through the staples of the string orchestra repertoire to follow.

St Magnus: BBC SO Strings & Mayfield Singers

St Magnus Cathedral, Kirkwall

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It is the piece on which Vaughan Williams based his Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, which was heard seamlessly in the wake of the original.

The sonority of the BBC SO strings is rich and lustrous, and reached out to the packed audience with warmth. Conductor Andrew Gourlay approached the Vaughan Williams with expansive elegance, ever mindful of the music’s forward moving flow.

Strauss’s Metamorphosen for 23 Solo Strings allowed individual voices of the orchestra to be heard and, with upper strings standing to play, they are an impressive ensemble. Gourlay directed this intensely moving music with growing tension, as if it was a broad arc of Strauss’s outpouring of grief following the 1943 bombing of Munich’s opera house.

In contrast, Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro zipped along with exhilaration, the players responding to Gourlay’s finely detailed direction with their instruments singing out Elgar’s wonderfully lyrical lines. In this final concert of their first St Magnus Festival residency the BBC SO once more showed why they have been such a hit with Orkney audiences.