Music review: BBC SSO, City Halls, Glasgow

IN HIS debut with the BBC SSO, the young American conductor James Feddeck effected a dynamic influence on the orchestra. His programme complemented the tip-toeing 1940s modernism of Barber and Britten with the bombastic might of Holst's suite The Planets, eliciting rich and rousing results.

BBC SSO guest conductor James Feddeck
BBC SSO guest conductor James Feddeck

BBC SSO, City Halls, Glasgow ****

Barber’s Second Essay for Orchestra opens wistfully before changing gear with a Hindemith-like pragmatism offset by Barber’s fondness for fresh-faced lyrical lines. The textures conjured up in this performance captured that intoxicating ambivalence.

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Britten’s Violin Concerto dates from his short stay in America around 1940, and besides the consequent musical freedom and stylistic experimentation evident in its three movements are significant influences from the likes of Prokofiev and Stravinsky.

With the unshakeable James Ehnes as soloist, this performance combined pinpoint accuracy with searing musicality, from the solo timpani’s dark opening gambit (so like Beethoven’s Violin Concerto in concept) to the perkiness of the scherzo and the intellectual thrill of the closing passacaglia with its folksy infusions. Ehnes’ solo Bach encore, yet again, revealed the Canadian’s supreme and polished artistry.

Then The Planets, which straight away conveyed the juiciness of Holst’s glorious technicolour scoring, rich in nuance and rhythmically seething. Occasionally, Feddeck fell into the trap of over-encouraging the brass and other general issues of balance sneaked in. The offstage female singers of Les Sirènes added a rich seraphic cream to the final moments. A pity that the hall door, acting as a swell box, creaked so noisily in the process.