Music review: BBC SSO: Festival Firsts

Edinburgh International Festival: The three works in Saturday's BBC SSO programme of 20th-century British music, conducted by Sir James MacMillan, had one thing in common: all were first performed at an Edinburgh Festival.

Usher Hall


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The earliest of these (1953) was Tippett’s sumptuous Fantasia Concertante on a Theme of Corelli, a complex web of contrapuntal cross-stitching that reimagines Tippett’s theme through a misted lens.

Unfortunately the performance made nothing of its throbbing intensity, the ripieno strings suppressed to the point of near irrelevance. So much of the inner vibrance was lost as a result.

No danger of that in MacmIllan’s 1996 trumpet concerto, Epiclesis, a moving, ultimately theatrical, meditation on the power of transformation at the heart of the Eucharist. This was a truly transformative performance, featuring solo trumpeter Ole Edvard Antonsen.

Arising out of a near-imperceptible orchestral haze, Antonsen’s interjecting flourishes entered tentatively, leading us with increasing urgency to that point of catharsis where he is joined by two other trumpets in a typically MacMillanesque romp, before subsiding into a magical moment (ultimately offstage) of quiet reflection.

Walton’s 1960 Second Symphony took time to find its acerbic virility, but by the spicily scented Lento assai it took wings and flew.