For the second week running, the guest conductor of a Scottish orchestra has been seen to connect more vitally with the players than the main man. Last weekend it was the RSNO’s principal guest, Thomas Søndergård; on Thursday it was the turn of the BBC SSO’s associate guest, John Wilson, who found a spark in the SSO that has merely flickered in some of its recent performances.
City Halls, Glasgow ****
Wilson, better known for his championing of glitzy Hollywood scores, is no lightweight when it comes to the mainstream orchestral repertoire. In this gutsy programme he coupled the cool, fresh poeticism of Britten’s Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings with Anthony Payne’s gargantuan envisioning of Elgar’s unfinished Third Symphony, his so-called “elaboration” based on Elgar’s piecemeal sketches.
Completed 20 years ago by Payne, Wilson found a profound, pulsating cohesion missing from previous interpretations. Besides the raw, immediate presence of the opening theme and the caressing gorgeousness of its quick-to-act counterfoil, a contrast that sets the heaving and opulent expressive agenda for the whole work, Wilson insisted on pinpoint clarity of texture.
One or two minor shudders, perhaps, but the overall result was electrifying, achingly moving, altogether convincing.
The Britten coupled the meltingly accurate horn playing of Christopher Parkes with the incomparable Britten-friendly tenor voice of Ian Bostridge, whose animated delivery explored fascinating new perspectives, among them a disturbing, super-heated “This ae nighte”. The SSO strings entered fully into the spirit, eloquent but forceful.