Music review: BBC SSO, Laura Samuel & Claire Booth

The BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
The BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
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EVERYONE might be able to sing along to it, but it’s not often that Mozart’s bubbling Eine kleine Nachtmusik actually gets an airing in concert. It made the ideal launchpad, however, for the slimmed-down BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra’s conductor-less performance, directed from the leader’s chair by Laura Samuel – fresh, breezy, sparklingly detailed and full of impetuous energy.

City Halls, Glasgow ****

There was more Mozart to complete the cleverly put-together programme – an extrovert, expansive Jupiter Symphony, for which the ensemble bulked up with additional strings and wind. It could perhaps have done with a slightly rawer edge and sharper bite at times, but it was thoroughly persuasive nonetheless, its topsy-turvy slow movement restless and strongly characterised, and the players letting rip in a joyfully precipitous but tightly controlled finale.

In between came two English works – both sharing Mozart’s directness and clarity, but providing striking contrast nonetheless. Samuel and the BBCSSO players lovingly sculpted Bridge’s melancholy Three Idylls with sensuous give and take, and a laser-like sense of focus that brought the miniatures’ storytelling to the fore.

But it was in a spine-tingling account of Les illuminations by Bridge’s pupil Benjamin Britten that the players, joined by soprano Claire Booth, came into their own. Booth gave a radiant, rapturous, wonderfully nuanced performance, adjusting her sound from piercing purity through to luscious richness to respond to Rimbaud’s hallucinatory texts – and there was always a delicious sense of danger behind her unsettling declamations. The BBC SSO players delivered exceptionally vivid accounts of Britten’s colourful string writing under Samuel’s unforced direction. It was an engrossing, inspiring concert – and one that gets a repeat airing in His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen, tomorrow afternoon.

DAVID KETTLE