If there was a thread to be found running through the three works in this concert, it was perhaps the element of surprise. All three composers, George Butterworth, Sir James MacMillan and Edward Elgar, turned sudden corners or defied expectations.
BBC SSO & Lawrence Power ****
City Halls, Glasgow
Butterworth’s A Shropshire Lad is just 12 minutes’ long, but in that short time takes both players and audience on a journey far beyond the concert hall. Inspired by AE Housman’s poetry collection of the same name, the piece starts and ends as a whisper, but shouts loudly of loss and longing in between.
Sir James MacMillan was in the house for the Scottish premiere of his 2013 Viola Concerto, as was the man he composed it for – acclaimed viola player Lawrence Power. Written exactly 100 years after Butterworth’s piece, hearing them consecutively illustrated just how much the classical canon has evolved. Butterworth may have surprised us with changes in direction, but at times MacMillan’s piece felt as if whole bars of notes had fallen from one sheet of music to another. The concerto has so many personalities relaxing into it is not an option, nor would you want it to be.
Elgar’s Symphony No. 2 disappointed at its premiere in 1911, but its sweeping, elegiac beauty and bursts of thrilling percussion and brass felt very much at home on this bill. Throughout, the BBC SSO squeezed every drop of pathos, and excitement out of all three pieces. No surprise there.