Classical review: BBC SSO/David Hill, City Halls, Glasgow

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It’s a measure of the BBC SSO’s astonishing versatility that they can jump from a blistering evening of hardcore music composed right now (last week’s Rebecca Saunders concert) to a convincingly period-informed seasonal classic written more than three centuries ago.

BBC SSO / David Hill | Rating: **** | City Halls, Glasgow

In truth, conductor David Hill’s account of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio fell a bit between two stools, with a slimline orchestra and crisp, rhythmic playing nodding in the direction of historical performance, but the full-throated, almost operatic richness of the BBC Singers and some of the varied roster of soloists harking back to a more Romantic tradition of Baroque performance.

But it was brisk, driven, full of insightful drama and – best of all – ringingly clear in its articulation, as epitomised by the splendid musical storytelling of tenor James Gilchrist, singing Evangelist (and also taking on the tenor segments for an indisposed Ben Johnson), who seemed to inject his every phrase with energy, meaning and enthusiasm. Bass Benjamin Appl gave a noble performance, but struggled to match Gilchrist’s effortless clarity, and soprano Rosemary Joshua, bright and expressive, felt like an odd match for the burnished silkiness of mezzo Jennifer Johnston. To such an extent that Gilchrist, Joshua and Johnston’s trio ‘Ach, wenn wird die Zeit erscheinen?’ seemed to stress their voices’ dogged differences, rather than melding them together.

BBC SSO players – notably leader Laura Samuel, trumpeter Hedley Benson and oboist Stella McCracken – were on exemplary, committed form in their aria accompaniments. It might not have been a performance of startling revelations, but it was vivid, energetic and compelling nonetheless.