The SNJO, under founder-director Tommy Smith, certainly don’t lack ambition in tackling these two milestones from the superbly creative partnership of trumpeter Miles Davis and arranger Gil Evans. They were well up to the challenge, however, with a tour de force performance which saw Radio 3 New Generation artist Laura Jurd guesting for Sketches of Spain, and the orchestra’s own Tom MacNiven stepping forward for Porgy and Bess.
Music review: SNJO - Porgy & Bess/Sketches of Spain *****
Usher Hall, Edinburgh
Sketches opened with Davis and Evans’s ground-breaking arrangement of the adagio from Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez, Jurd’s unhurried, full-toned belling switching to a cooler, muted playing, with augmented brass and woodwind sections bringing vivid colour and a dramatically sustained flute note cranking up tension. Only in Will o’ the Wisp did orchestral forces threaten to swamp the trumpet, but there were memorable moments in the marching band pageant of Saeta, the orchestra’s horns sounding dramatically offstage over advancing snare, while for sheer, torrid hauteur, the closing Solea was hard to beat, Jurd’s phrasing intensifying over that inexorable, bolero-like riff.
MacNiven brought his robustly assured stamp to Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, right from the opening Buzzard Song, then languidly drawing out the melody in Bess, You Is My Woman Now, orchestra gliding behind. The spiritual Prayer was spare but increasingly impassioned, while There’s a Boat Leaving brought things to a powerful climax, trumpet shrilling against jubilant brass chorusing.
These were timeless jazz classics, here sounding utterly of the moment.