Music review: BBC SSO/James MacMillan

Glasgow composer James MacMillan.Picture: Robert Perry
Glasgow composer James MacMillan.Picture: Robert Perry
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WHO was Erik Chisholm? That’s not a question we should really need to ask. But the plain fact is, we seldom get to hear anything of a composer born in Glasgow in 1904 whose music, for all its angular leanings to Bartok, bears the hallmarks of expressive substance and distinctive intellectual integrity.

BBC SSO/James MacMillan

City Halls, Glasgow

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Not before time, the BBC SSO included his “Hindustani” Piano Concerto in Monday’s Commonwealth Day Concert, conducted by James MacMillan, with the dazzlingly precise pianist Danny Driver in the solo seat. It’s a work that never lets up, its bristling, virtuosic energy set in motion by elemental motifs etched out of actual raga melodies, its pungent textures adding spiced exoticism to its many colourful, if occasionally emotionally dry, pages.

MacMillan and the SSO gave eager, malleable support to Driver’s feverish, fastidious performance, making a convincing case for a work that deserves way more air time than it gets.

The other major work in this all-Scottish programme was MacMillan’s own The Confession of Isobel Gowdie, the 1991 BBC Proms commission that made his name.

It was interesting to hear his personal take on it, less volatile and aggressive than the way others have approached it, but never without pressing urgency and dramatic bite.

Alasdair Spratt’s Obsess, written in 2003 by the young Glasgow-born composer, was a crystalline interlude, the frenetic delicacy of its scoring for mixed chamber ensemble delivered with pristine clarity. Hamish MacCunn’s The Ship o’ the Fiend provided a meaty, Romantic, tuneful opener to a wholly intriguing concert.

Seen on 10.03.14